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TOUGH GUYS DON’T DANCE (director/writer: Norman Mailer; screenwriter: based on the novel by Norman Mailer; cinematographer: Michael Moyer; editor: Debra McDermott; music: Angelo Badalament; cast: Ryan O’Neal (Tim Madden), Isabella Rossellini (Madeleine Regency), Debra Sandlund (Patty Lareine), Wings Hauser (Capt. Alvin Luther Regency), John Bedford Lloyd (Wardley Meeks III), Lawrence Tierney (Dougy Madden), Penn Jillette (Big Stoop), Frances Fisher (Jessica Pond), R. Patrick Sullivan (Lonnie Pangborn), John Snyder (Spider), Stephan Morrow (Stoodie), Clarence Williams III (Bolo); Runtime: 110; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Menahem Golan/Yoram Globus; MGM Home Entertainment; 1987)
“Embarrassingly idiotic high camp modern noir set on Cape Cod.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Embarrassingly idiotic high camp modern noir set on Cape Cod. Norman Mailer (“Maidstone”/”Beyond The Law”/”Wild 90”) directs a film based on his 1984 best-selling trashy novel. The demented film is even worse than the novel; it should appeal only to the perverse and lovers of bad films. Considering Pulitzer Prize-winning author Mailer is responsible for the writing, there seems to be no excuse for the poor execution of the crude dime store dialogue (done in a Maileresque patois) and for it being incoherent. All the characters are unsympathetic sleazes, who draw no sympathy even when beheaded or framed for murder. The direction is inadequate, as the film is plodding, poorly paced and the macabre murder scene is hardly convincing. The film serves to promote Mailer’s macho stance, and has a mean streak running through it that never allows the parody to emerge as tongue-in-cheek funny. Mailer intended it to be a nightmarish comedy taking some pokes at the noir genre (especially the Chandler thrillers), but it just turns out to be a complete train wreck.

The film’s anti-hero, Tim Madden (Ryan O’Neal), an ex-con drug dealer, ex-bartender and wannabe writer, wakes up in his Provincetown, Mass., cottage home and discovers he can’t remember how he got a tattoo on his arm, that there’s blood on the front seat of his Jeep and a decapitated head in the trash bag where he stashes his drugs. Not knowing who is the murderer, but pretty sure it couldn’t be him he muses about how his trashy but sexy wealthy wife, Patty Lareine (Debra Sandlund), left him 28 days ago. A few days later his terminally ill with cancer dad, a tough old bird, the retired bartender Dougy Madden (Lawrence Tierney), comes over and tells him ‘tough guys don’t dance.’ Dad helps sonny boy to deep-six all the corpses that eventually turn up. Through flashback we learn the crime scene has something to do with a botched cocaine deal, the evil gold-digging chippie that Tim married after she divorced her wealthy dissolute sad-sack wealthy southerner hubby (John Bedford Lloyd) and collected a big divorce settlement, who suddenly reappears; a corrupt police chief (Wings Hauser), who borders on being a psychopath and who married the old flame Italian girl Madeleine (Isabella Rossellini) that Tim should have married if he didn’t screw up and bring her along on a wife swapping date. Also involved in the convoluted story line are the following perverts: a washed up porno star (Frances Fisher) and her gay sugar daddy (R. Patrick Sullivan), who are dealing drugs; and a couple of small potato sleazy local drug dealers (John Snyder & Stephan Morrow), who are willing to do anything to make a fortune.

What I took away from this horrific film is that Mailer might be a great writer but he’s a lousy filmmaker. REVIEWED ON 10/11/2009 GRADE: C-

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”