8 August 2010 | slokes
Makes Me Smile
The real bout in this movie may be between Barbra Streisand's talent and Babs' ego. Can the often-inspiring light comedienne of "What's Up Doc" and "Funny Girl" overcome La Streisand's need to be the center of every scene?
It's a reunion flick between Streisand and "Doc" co-star Ryan O'Neal. She's perfume magnate Hillary Kramer, undone by an embezzling accountant. He's Kid Natural, a former prize fighter who represents Hillary's one asset, if only she can get him in the ring. He'd rather stick to his new career as a driving instructor.
"Do you want my body on your head for the rest of your life?" he asks her.
More than boxing, sex is the main event of the film, from the opening shots of Streisand working out in spandex leotards to the charged byplay between the stars. She teases her ex-husband with pelvic thrusts and dances around the ring with Kid in short-shorts and a halter top with no bra. This is distracting to some extent but helps arouse the movie's one undeniable asset: The chemistry between O'Neal and Streisand.
For an actor made entirely of wood, O'Neal is surprisingly spry and able, taking pratfalls, playing shamelessly off his good looks, and trying to get out of the deal with Hillary by clenching his fists and telling her of his vow to "never again use these, these messengers of death." He lives in a giant glove by a freeway which advertises his driving instructions in neon. He proudly claims it an investment made with Hillary's money.
For her part, Streisand is clearly the more dominant partner in a way she wasn't in "Doc". The movie starts and ends with a big close-up on her, and the boxing part of the story is shortchanged in order to keep her in the frame as much as possible. Howard Zieff directs this as a vanity project, since that's what it is, with soft lighting playing up her russet locks at every opportunity.
But Streisand justifies the spotlight by playing to Hillary's weaknesses as much as her strengths. Hillary has no clue about boxing, but doesn't let that stop her. After the Kid is dinged up in one early match, she announces a new plan: "Better fights with nicer people".
Another early scene of Kramer running her perfume business has her deliver a line that seems a playful nod at Streisand's own famously imperious rep: "I want you to go away to a very quiet place, let your brilliant and creative minds blossom with original ideas, and then bring me back exactly what I'm talking about." It might not be as funny delivered by someone else, but that's a benefit to having Barbra on the job.
There's enough general funniness like that to overcome the defects of too much Barbra and an ending that literally throws in the towel rather than resolves the romantic tension between Hillary and Kid in a fun yet convincing manner. Also on the plus side, you have Whitman Mayo as Kid's cagey manager and one great theme song, a molten disco masterpiece which Barbra sings with all the relish of Shirley Bassey pouncing on "Goldfinger". I think it made the film such a success in 1979, more than the critical notices of the time which were horrible.
So score this one talent over ego, if by points rather than knockout. "The Main Event" is no classic, but it's good enough to make me smile all these years later.