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HUGO POOl (director/writer: Robert Downey; screenwriter: Laura Downey; cinematographer: Joseph Montgomery; editor: Joe D’Augustine; music: Danilo Perez; cast: Patrick Dempsey (Floyd Gaylen), Robert Downey Jr. (Franz Mazur), Richard Lewis (Chic Chicalini), Malcolm McDowell (Henry), Alyssa Milano (Hugo), Cathy Moriarty (Minerva), Sean Penn (Hitchhiker), Patrick Dempsey (Floyd Gaylen); Runtime: 92; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Barbara Ligeti; Northern Arts Entertainment; 1997)
“The bottom of the pool.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Robert Downey, the father of the noted and troubled actor Robert Downey Jr., made his auspicious debut with the 1967 Chafed Elbows. My favorite and his acclaimed best film was the 1969 Putney Swope, part of a trilogy with the 1970 Pound, and the 1972 Greaser’s Palace. His work steadily declined after such a promising start, and reached the bottom of the pool with his misguided quirky comedy of 1997 Hugo Pool. It’s a screwball comedy, scripted by Downey and Laura Downey (Lou Gehrig’s Disease took the life of the filmmaker’s wife in 1994).

Hugo Dugay (Milano) is explained away by her need to get tattooed because she is afraid to have sex and doesn’t take drugs and therefore needs to do something. She’s an attractive young lady looking after her divorced parents. She lives with her mother Minerva (Cathy Moriarty), who’s run into debt through her gambling and works for her daughter to get some dough to pay back the bookies. Her father Henry (Malcolm McDowell) is a recovering alcoholic and an ex-junkie. Hugo operates her own small business as a Los Angeles pool cleaner, whose personal troubles are extended when she’s ordered by regular mafioso customer, Chicalini (Lewis), to fill his pool or else, as his party comes first, despite a city ordinance forbidding use of city water lines due to the severe drought and a warning of a stiff fine for violators. Hugo schemes to rent a tanker truck and make a quick trip to steal water from the Colorado River. When things get fouled up to the rescue comes dad, who wants to redeem himself for his lovely daughter. Together with a nameless drifter (Sean Penn), who’s decked out in purple shoes, they get things moving, as the mysterious stranger might possess magical powers. During the course of the day, where she has to clean 44 pools, she must also deal with all her other eccentric customers, including manic filmmaker Franz (Robert Downey, Jr.) and the only normal one Floyd (Patrick Dempsey). He’s a handsome young man she has fallen in love with, despite the fact that he’s in a wheelchair and can’t talk and is dying from ALS (commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease). Floyd volunteers to help, as he goes along with her on her route.

The plot is your typical sitcom plot, but the execution of this material is atrocious and the dialogue is dumber than dumb. A sampler line goes like this: “I’m too superficial to be hurt.” I felt manipulated by the heart-pulling love story, thought the plot was overplayed, and found the whole venture pointless and all the characters lacking credibility.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”