' ' Cinema Romantico: Friday's Old Fashioned: Blind Date (1987)

Friday, July 31, 2015

Friday's Old Fashioned: Blind Date (1987)

The thing about a Blind Date, of course, is that you don’t know the other person, haven’t seen them, have no idea how they act, etc. That’s what can make a Blind Date such a torturous, potentially humorous, situation. What’s interesting about “Blind Date”, however, is that it gives away the reveal before the reveal happens. Everybody tells Walter Davis (Bruce Willis) not to let his Blind Date drink. And yet, he fails to abide, perhaps because this is an eighties screwball comedy and in the eighties Reagan ran things and because Reagan ran things everything was perfect and nothing bad could happen and so if someone tells you not to give your Blind Date a drink you do anyway because fate isn’t something to be tempted but ignored. We are masters of our fate.

This revealing of the reveal takes some air out of the whole premise, and that’s how much of “Blind Date” feels – airless. It’s directed by Blake Edwards, who in 1987 would have been considered a venerable professional of the sort of hijinks hilarity required by this screwball comedy. Though he also helmed sobering dramas like “Days of Wine and Roses”, he was perhaps best known for this “Pink Panther” movies, films in which he demonstrated his knack for staging pratfalls. They were, however, elevated to greatness on account of Peter Sellers immortal riotous turn as Inspector Clouseau. Edwards knew just where to put the camera for Clouseau’s practice tangles with Kato, sure, but it was Sellers’ body language that took it to the next level. Director and Actor sang in harmony. “Blind Date”, however, suffers from a lack of a comparable performers.

Willis is primarily the straight man, tasked with conveying alternating charmed and exasperated reactions to Nadia Gates, the woman who gives the film its title. She’s played by Kim Basinger in a performance that is simply too un-manic to be the heroine required of a screwball. When he first meet her, she seems perfect, as she must, sort of a live-action embodiment of Holli Would. With one drink, though, she becomes a destructive force, wasting no time in screwing up Walter’s big dinner for whom she goes as better half and then getting him fired. Yet the manner in which she levels destruction is so disappointingly low-key. She’s a far cry from Elaine Benes getting soused on Schnapps. It’s, like, 57 years too late but imagine Jean Harlow in the role and the alcohol-infused chaos would be electric. Or imagine modern day Parker Posey having a few cocktails and going mainstream. The best we get in “Blind Date” is the moment Walter pleads with a bouncer while Nadia subtly slides into his stool in the background and quietly knocks back his scotch and soda. Even worse, the script calls for her to swing from drunk to sober on a dime, again and again. Nit-picking isn’t my forte but even I know you can’t get a clear head without at least a couple gallons of water and a 2lb burrito.

The MVP of the cast, in fact, turns out to be its principal supporting player, John Larroquette. He plays David Bedford, a lawyer and Nadia’s former beau, still fancying himself her primo suitor, showing up an early scene, as nice as can be, before quickly devolving, threatening Walter, punching out anyone’s lights who gets in his way, ably embodying the sort of crazy we might have expected from Nadia. Throwing himself into each gag with abandon, a White Knight whose chivalry is communicated exclusively in hysteria, Larroquette comes across like the true spirit animal to Blake Edwards. The absolute best involves his stalking in the new happy/unhappy couple by automobile, turning up like it’s “Duel”, and then repeatedly crashing through storefront windows. He’ll do whatever it takes for the joke. This is a man with the mania required of a screwball comedy.

For a good awhile it appears “Blind Date” might be going the all-in-one-night route, like a more classically inclined “After Hours.” It runs out of steam, though, and tosses Walter in jail and saving his skin requires representation from David which requires Nadia to say yes to David’s marriage proposal. So a third act of Walter running in to break up a wedding ensues which is done professionally enough but without any real hectic glee as Larroquette is required to tone down his antics so Willis can take center stage. Alas. Larroquette’s character may not have deserved the heroine, but he deserved a better end than to stand aside and watch the movie pass him by.

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