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Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Retro Review: Tin Men (1987)

Tin Men
Cast: Danny DeVito, Richard Dreyfus, Barbara Hershey, Bruno Kirby, JT Walsh
Genre: Comedy
U.S Box Office Gross: over $25 million

Plot: A minor car accident drives two rival aluminium-siding salesmen to the ridiculous extremes of man versus man in 1963 Baltimore

'Far From Barry Levinson's Absolute Best, Yet Thanks To Devito's Turn, It's Worth Seeing'

Tin Men is a film that was listed whilst I was looking on Barry Levinson's filmography, but it was also one that I was very unfamiliar with. I remember the last time I tried to watch this movie that after the first 15 mins, I gave up completely and turned it off because I just couldn't get into it, whatsoever. And so, I decided to try for a second time just today to see how it would fare and whether this time around, I'd manage to stick this one out to the very end. Fortunately, I did so and in doing so, I see to it that Tin Men touches on certain things and that it shows itself up to be a showcase on how two people who hate each other's guts, share a lot more in common than we originally thought. 

The second outing from Barry Levinson's Baltimore films, following on from Diner and was later preceded by Avalon and Liberty Heights, Tin Men tends to be a darker effort, but at the same time, it comes up short in certain areas and at best, I found it to be okay to reasonably good and that the story should have been a lot more dynamic. 

A pair of door-to-door Aluminium salesmen (which the title of the movie alludes to & is a slang term) from Baltimore, Earnest Tilly and BB Babowsky are involved in a minor car incident, which then blows up into a massive feud and they end up quarrelling against each other. Both Tilly and Babowsky blame one another for the fiasco and declare war - with Babowsky, stooping as low as stealing and seducing his rival's wife, who becomes increasingly unhappy with her marriage. Their actions incur the wrath of government officials; thus, leading to further investigation. Babowsky is a typical wheeler-dealer hustler type, whilst Earnest is tragi-loser who I felt sorry for and of who does his damn hardest to make things work, but whose efforts go unappreciated by his thankless wife. 

The feud is effective in advancing the film forward and as a plot device, it serves Tin Men rather well, but as it does so, it doesn't make the required and huge impact one expects it ought to do. I will say however that Tin Men is well-written and despite the comedy, which was deft and not being at the forefront as much, the performances by the main two, DeVito & Dreyfus, but more so by the former are what makes this movie worth sitting through. 

Richard Dreyfus's character was a meanie and a cad, whilst Danny DeVito's was more likeable and sympathetic and I couldn't stand Earnest's wife, who cheated on him with his rival. The subplot with Nora and BB falling for each other was totally unconvincing that it didn't work and I didn't feel any chemistry between Barbara Hershey and Richard Dreyfus. On the other hand, DeVito's performance was terrific and for me, he was the more compelling out of himself, Dreyfus and Hershey. Unfortunately, the script doesn't allow his character to grow and develop that well enough. That, and things do not get better for Earnest, which is a shame. Out of all the characters, DeVito's character was one that deserved a far happier ending than the rest. 

Whenever DeVito was onscreen, I became invested in the movie, and when he wasn't, I didn't find Tin Men as interesting and as watchable, and so I zoned out. Some of the banter was lighthearted and snappy, but it wasn't that funny and but for DeVito's character, everyone else was virtually charmless and they just seemed to be going through emotions. 

I liked how it ended, but Tin Men is far from entertaining and it could have been boosted with some more highly amusing one-liners, lines and occasional slapstick, which this film needed.  

Also look out for a cameo appearance by the British pop group, Fine Young Cannibals who perform, 'Good Thing' in a bar scene. 

Final Verdict:

Tin Men was and is a reasonable film and though it is not a high point in terms of commercial and critical success for Levinson, it does have something to say. But it also needed to be funnier in places and more dynamic also. 

Fortunately, in DeVito's Earnest and his performance as that character, in addition to the impressive 1960s set designs, it just about makes Tin Men watchable enough for me.


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