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MOVIE REVIEW : Formulaic 'It Takes Two' Adds Up to a Snappy, Wide-Awake Sleeper

July 15, 1988|MICHAEL WILMINGTON

"It Takes Two" (which opened Wednesday at selected theaters) is a modestly budgeted comedy with no real stars and a frowzy plot that suggests high-concept brainstorming: A gullible Texas farm boy has a series of demented fish-out-of-water misadventures in Dallas, while his fuming fiancee waits at the wedding. A lot of the jokes are the same stale japes you get in one dumb teen-sex comedy after another. There are burnoosed Arabs driving tow trucks, bridesmaids scampering around in panties and a marital-counseling session where someone pulls out a vibrator.

Yet, this small, unheralded movie, directed by David Beaird ("Pass the Ammo") and written by Richard Christian Matheson and Thomas Szollosi ("Three O'Clock High")--is a genuine sleeper. It has relentless pace and snap, real comic vigor. For all its obvious faults, it's a funnier, brighter, sexier comedy than most of its big-budget competition.

In the movie, young Travis Rogers (George Newbern)--barred from fiancee Stephi (Leslie Hope) by prenuptial chaos--takes off for Dallas, where he is flummoxed into buying a fancy Italian car by a conniving dealer (Marco Perella) and a tigerishly ravishing saleslady, Jonni Tigersmith (Kimberly Foster). The car parts have been swapped for inferior ones, and Travis finds himself stranded with Jonni and her gonzo Zen mechanic, Wheel (Anthony Geary). Meanwhile, the movie keeps cutting frantically back to Stephi and her dad (Barry Corbin)--who expects his lower-class son-in-law to join him in exploiting a new, inexhaustible power source: America's vast manure reserves.

Matheson and Szollosi's zingy script for the baroque "Three O'Clock High" worked fine up until the phony worm-turning ending--and there's a similar cop-out here, as well as some dubious jokes, twists and lines. But, once again, Beaird makes sticky material run like a dream.

Beaird is a young director with a wonderfully ripe and voluptuous comic style. His staging and the performances he gets are usually knockouts. In "It Takes Two," Dallas is presented as a mixture of Oz, Metropolis and Gomorrah, and sometimes it's shot like a parody of "Koyaanisqatsi." When the movie cuts back and forth between the provincial wedding preparations in Waxahachie--where Robert Benton shot "Places in the Heart"--and this evil, crazy, neon-and-glass city, with its hothouse colors and cold streets, the juxtapositions get jazzily mad.

Jazziest of the conceits is a Travis nightmare that looks like something David Lynch and Tim Burton might have cooked up together. Travis imagines himself trapped in his own stomach, digesting a vile torpedo tortilla while rowing his bed frantically through the juices to his drowning fiancee.

Most of the actors are terrific--especially Corbin and Geary. And, as Travis, George Newbern triumphs over his part's callowness and crazy irresponsibility.

But, as before, Beaird hits pure gold with his ingenues. As the beleaguered bride, Leslie Hope is fetchingly energetic, sunnily determined and wildly pretty. And Kimberly Foster, as saleslady Tigersmith, gives one of the most outrageously sexy comic performances of the year. Foster--who looks like a mixture of Kim Novak and Melanie Griffith, with a dab of Debbie Harry in the eyes--is both scrumptious and witty. Her timing is gorgeously impeccable, and the scene in which she seduces Travis into buying the ridiculously overpriced Italian clinker--the troubled "Trovare"--is a minor classic.

Beaird has a flair for innuendo. The all-American link between cars and sex--the loony auto eroticism Robert Zemeckis tapped in "Used Cars"--has rarely been so juicy. "It Takes Two" (MPAA-rated PG-13, for sex, nudity and language) is not perfect, not even close. But it's a lively little movie with the best comedy instincts. It's out to show us a good time, and it does.

'IT TAKES TWO'

An MGM/UA presentation of a Robert Lawrence production. Producer Robert Lawrence. Director David Beaird. Script Richard Christian Matheson, Thomas Szollosi. Executive producer Steve Nicolaides. Camera Peter Deming. Production design Richard Hoover. Music Carter Burwell. Editor David Garfield. With George Newbern, Leslie Hope, Kimberly Foster, Barry Corbin, Anthony Geary.

Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes.

MPAA rating: PG-13 (parents are strongly cautioned; some material may be inappropriate for children under 13).

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