Throw Momma from the Train
Some of us who were born in the 80's recognize Anne Ramsey's face very well, most likely from 'The Goonies'. She had a particular gift for playing bitter, angry, irritable old women, and she did it so very well. In fact, she did it so well here, she was even nominated for an Oscar - losing that year to Olympia Dukakis for 'Moonstruck'. Sadly, she missed her chance and passed on later that year. However, us kids from the 80's remember her so very well, and most of us probably can't even put a name to her face.
Here, we are introduced to Larry Donner (Billy Crystal); a college professor and tutor for aspiring writers. The only successful book he's ever written was done so under his ex-wife, Margaret's (Kate Mulgrew) name, and she now reaps the benefits while he wallows in misery about it. That is until one of his students, Owen Lift (Danny DeVito), comes up with a proposal.
Owen lives at home with his horrible mother (Ramsey), and constantly fantasizes about ways to rid himself of her agonizing nagging once and for all - by the way, the way she nags is just hilarious. Finding out about Larry's situation, Owen makes the criss-cross offer of "I'll kill your ex-wife if you kill my mother". While Larry takes it as a joke, he soon finds out that Owen has carried out his part of the deed, and Larry suddenly becomes the prime suspect. All the while afterward, Owen continues to pressure Larry into carrying out his part of the bargain.
I had a lot of fun with this one, and it offers a lot of good, dark laughs, which are always right up my alley. Between DeVito (who also directed this one), Crystal and Ramsey, I'm not sure who got the most laughs from me. It might as well be a three-way tie, all showing their best humour in their own ways.
The fact that this is essentially a re-imagining of 'Strangers on a Train' is openly addressed, making the film completely self-aware (much like how 'Happy Death Day' mentions 'Groundhog Day'), which blends nicely with the comedy of it all, especially for a film from 1987.
If you're someone like me, and you're really into dark comedies, I can highly recommend this one. Remember, by '87, all the rage was slasher horror, and the PG-13 rating had recently been introduced via 'Temple of Doom' in '84. This was a title that fit nice and snug into that PG-13 rating, and really helped pave the way for dark comedies to have more intensity to them. Not that anything in here was all that intense, even for the time, but I daresay this one helped to open that door.
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