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MOVIE REVIEW : 'Twins' Deals in Predictability

December 09, 1988|MICHAEL WILMINGTON

For the last decade, big-time movies have been slowly decomposing into big-time deals with a movie attached almost as an afterthought. Ivan Reitman's "Twins" (citywide)--a big buddy-little buddy comedy with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito as wildly improbable non-identical siblings--may be the perfect example.

It's a deal-movie that hardly bothers to disguise its origins. Everything about it seems composed in movie-ad exclamation points. Schwarzenegger! DeVito! Twins! Separated at birth! After a genetic experiment that made Arnold a superman and left Danny a sleazeball! Romancing two gorgeous sisters! Pursued cross-country by crazed criminals!

You think you can do anything with all of that? Call director Reitman and his two teams of writers immediately. Except for the most obvious moves, they don't have a clue.

If you've seen the trailer, you've practically seen the film. And if you've seen the ubiquitous movie posters--Schwarzenegger and DeVito posed against a periwinkle blue sky in identical light beige slickster suits with their names switched--you've really gotten the best of the movie. Those posters, among the the most eye-catching around right now, seem to have exhausted most of the deal's creative energy. There are only two genuinely amusing comic notions in the entire picture.

One of them has nothing to do with characters or story. It's an insider gag with Schwarzenegger pausing before a huge wall poster of a bulbously muscled Sly Stallone as "Rambo III," and sniggering at his rival. The other high point shows Schwarzenegger's Julius and DeVito's Vincent after a shopping expedition in those same beige suits, with con-man Danny instructing primal innocent Arnold on the proper hipster glide and easy-snapping crouch.,

In this scene, the movie almost redeems itself. DeVito and Schwarzenegger can be a couple of real charmers, separately or together. And the whole weird visual and emotional contrast between them--half-pint Danny with his Ralph Kramden-style macho bombast and 10-gallon Schwarzenegger, with his Frank Frazetta frame and sweet, boyish deference--becomes hilarious.

The two separate teams of writers--three of whom, according to Universal publicity, graduated from Cambridge University--spend most of their time justifying the match-up of Julius and Vincent and then shoe-horning them into the same two-guys-on-the-run plot that's been recycled endlessly, most recently in "Midnight Run." They've added only one semi-new wrinkle: two knockout sisters (Chloe Webb and Kelly Preston) along for the ride.

Webb and Preston are nice to watch, even in these squabbling, pointless, tag-along roles. But it's hard to figure out what they're doing here. Was somebody afraid that if Schwarzenegger and DeVito were left alone together in a motel room, the audience might assume they had homosexual tendencies?

Is this the skittishness of a Cambridge education? Didn't anyone see Steve Martin and John Candy in "Planes, Trains and Automobiles?" (The film makers later insert limp gags where the boys embrace effusively in public rest rooms and passers-by make silly assumptions.)

Ivan Reitman ("Meatballs," "Stripes" "Ghostbusters") has made almost nothing but male-bonding comedies; even "Legal Eagles" started as one. And he plays everything to the hilt here, jamming on the boyish sentimentality, rubbing Schwarzenegger's and DeVito's obvious shticks together. But the hard, clear, bright comic tone Reitman gets, which worked well in "Ghostbusters" and less well in the others, only emphasizes the insipid, empty writing.

There's another suggestive choice. DeVito obviously has his sweet side, and Schwarzenegger a harder, rougher one. But Reitman and the writers choose to emphasize the DeVito of "Taxi" or "Ruthless People," the nasty, conniving little creep, full of greaseball machismo. And they give us a gentler Schwarzenegger, a paragon of intellect and morality who speaks 17 languages (all with an Austrian accent?), a Superman in lamb's clothes.

At the end, when DeVito does his worm-turning act, there's not much preparation. He's been a creep by genetics, and he becomes a mensch by billing. There's even an annoying undercurrent: An unconscious suggestion that Julius' musculature signifies spiritual and mental nobility, while DeVito's elfin body signifies a stunted soul and rancid ethics.

"Twins" starts with an overblown fairy-tale quality that seems as if it should work. But, by the finish, the movie collapses on the shoulders of the stars. It works because they both showed up and delivered the goods and kept their end of the deal.

"Twins" (MPAA rated PG, despite sexual innuendo) begins by exploiting its co-stars and ends by wasting them and virtually everyone else. Whatever mega-millions it earns, you might have a better time buying tapes of "Throw Momma" and "Conan," splicing them together and watching them over a bowl of candy bars and Schnapps. Schwarzenegger! DeVito! Only their hairdresser knows for sure! (No, sorry. . . . That's another ad campaign.)

'TWINS'

A Universal release. Producer-director Ivan Reitman. Script William Davies, William Osborne, Timothy Harris, Herschel Weingrod. Camera Andrzej Bartkowiak. Production design James Bissell. Editors Sheldon Kahn, Donn Cambern. Music Georges Delerue, Randy Edelman. Executive producers Joe Medjuck, Michael C. Gross. With Arnold Schwarzenegger, Danny DeVito, Kelly Preston, Chloe Webb, Bonnie Bartlett, Trey Wilson.

Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.

MPAA rating: PG (parental guidance suggested; some material may not be suitable for children).

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