Poor old Danny DeVito. Formerly celebrated for his arsenic-tinged directorial efforts, the sinister and sinful likes of Throw Momma From The Train and The War Of The Roses, he's now getting more doom and gloom than he ever bargained for. Death To Smoochy snuffed it at the US box office before being denied a UK theatrical release by the demise of FilmFour. And now Our House or Duplex, as it was titled for its US release arrives on a choppy tide littered with the debris of negative reviews and empty cash registers.
Harsh, because DeVito's sixth stint under the baseball cap is better than our American cousins would have us believe. The diminutive helmer again unspools his id, while Stiller and Barrymore amiably combine their patented schticks (him a ticking timebomb, her cheek-pinchingly cute).
Admittedly, Our House is slow to get going, smothering the gags as it sets up the scenario: Alex (Stiller) and Nancy (Barrymore) moving into their dream house, believing their crusty upstairs tenant, Mrs Connelly (the sprightly, 81-years-young Essell), is a harmless sweetie who'll soon be departing to the highest loft of them all. Then it begins to roll, the old dear increasingly infuriating Stiller's work-from-home novelist by requesting he helps with her chores. And finally it crashes along with real momentum, a deadly cocktail of sleep deprivation and pure, uncontrollable rage leading our lovely couple to black thoughts of murder. Strangulation, asphyxiation, decapitation all become words to roll around the mouth, to savour.
Muddying his visual palette in direct correlation to his protagonists' ever-darkening actions, DeVito only loses the courage of his mean-spirited convictions in the cowardly coda. It's an annoyance, a final flaw in a far-from-flawless film, but by then we've enjoyed enough gurgling guffaws to justify the ticket stub. Highlights? Nancy vomiting into Mrs Connell's sink while Alex is underneath, removing the U-bend. Alex breathing in snot-spittled, germ-laden air on the subway in an effort to catch a killer flu to pass on to the old hag. And a hired hitman sneaking into the withered crone's apartment only to receive a jolting dose of his own poisoned medicine.
It's not The Ladykillers, then, but itâs hardly Bring Me The Head Of Mavis Davis, either.
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Better than its preceding reputation suggests, DeVito's kill-the-old-fogey com is often dismal in just the right way. Blemished, but worth it.