8 January 2011 | mjneu59
...if they only had a heart
Barry Levinson's attractively lopsided comedy marked his tentative return to Earth (to be more specific, the city of Baltimore circa 1963) after serving time on the Steven Spielberg assembly line (in 'Young Sherlock Holmes'). The idea of a film depicting the cutthroat antagonism between two aluminum siding salesmen must have been alarming to the people at Touchstone Pictures, who no doubt insisted on certain commercial concessions, including a strictly gratuitous appearance by the pop group Fine Young Cannibals (out of place in the early '60s setting), and the casting of two high-profile names in the title roles (an allusion to the heartless hero of Oz). Danny DeVito and Richard Dreyfuss portray the disreputable rival salesmen who become mortal enemies after a minor fender bender dings their new Cadillacs. Both are reliable comic talents, but the highlights of the film are the lengthy digressions from the plot, with a (largely unknown) cast of supporting actors improvising loopy, crisscrossing conversation over coffee and donuts. Despite the effort Levinson may have put into his screenplay it's the unscripted banter that leaves the best impression, winning points for unpredictability in an original but otherwise uneven comedy.