' ' Cinema Romantico: Friday's Old Fashioned: The Man with One Red Shoe (1986)

Friday, October 19, 2018

Friday's Old Fashioned: The Man with One Red Shoe (1986)

Despite being billed as a comedy, director Stan Dragoti’s American remake of a 1972 French film starts mostly seriously, with a series of government men in mirrored sunglasses up to nefarious tricks, suggesting that all one need to do in Washington D.C. to pick out the nefarious people is look for the ones in mirrored sunglasses. See, CIA Deputy Director Cooper (Dabney Coleman) is trying to take down CIA Director Ross (Charles Durning) by linking him to a drug scandal that is, in fact, Cooper’s doing. Ross, knowing that Cooper is trying to take him down, leaks #FakeNews that a mystery man is arriving by plane who will clear the Director’s good name and dispatches underlings to the airport to pick up someone, anyone, doesn’t matter who, because the whole end game is too divert all of Cooper’s attention onto this patsy. That patsy becomes Richard Drew (Tom Hanks), a concert violinist who is wearing mismatched shoes, explained less by the plot than Hanks’s aw-shucks obliviousness. The latter is crucial. Richard Drew is merely the straight man in a sketch gone wrong; the sketch is written by the CIA.

If this sounds like enough to generate a whole movie, “The Man with One Red Shoe” is oddly insistent on shoehorning in a subplot involving Richard’s friend Morris (Jim Belushi), percussionist in the orchestra for whom Richard plays, or his supposed friend, since Morris suspects that Richard is having an affair with his wife Paula (Carrie Fisher). In a pseudo-twist, Richard is! And this is weird. This is weird because the intrinsic gregarious personality of Hanks is entirely at odds with his character choosing to sleep with his pal’s wife, and Carrie Fisher, written more shrill than funny, is hung out to dry. It’s a mostly woeful subplot that only finds its footing when Morris is made to accidentally discover the CIA is on Richard’s tail, not that Morris completely realizes it, which Belushi plays with a kind of confused comicality resembling someone convinced he has just seen Elvis and not sure whether to believe his own eyes.

That might mark Richard as akin to “The Man Who Knew Too Little” (1997) where Bill Murray acted like the secret agent that he was only because he thought it was all interactive improv. But then, Bill Murray still got to be Bill Murray while “The Man with One Red Shoe” never really lets Tom Hanks cut loose. Even in keeping the spotlight trained specifically on Richard, the movie becomes more about the people keeping him in the spotlight. And as wheezy as the movie’s comedy mostly is, there is something of a kick to be had in the CIA’s frenzied insistence on overthinking everything. That kick stems from how the more obvious it becomes that Drew is merely a patsy, the easier it becomes for Cooper to convince himself that he is not, concocting fanciful scenarios that push well past plausibility. Drew’s cello notes, in the eyes of Cooper, cannot simply be music but musical code, and he assigns his underlings to pour through this non-existent code, government resources held hostage by the whims of one man gone around the bend.

Maybe this sounds like the reviewer projecting, but it’s there, all of it, not so much on the surface, which is more interested in standard-issue hijinks, but just below it, glimpsed in the increasingly frazzled air of Coleman and in the quizzical expressions of Lori Singer as Cooper’s right-hand woman suggesting she knows they are on the wrong tack but obliged to follow misplaced orders anyway. She can’t stop it even if she wants to. When Cooper trundles into the trap that’s been sprung for him as the movie ends, you see it coming, absolutely, but you absolutely can see how and why he doesn’t. He already “knows” everything, until he is made, in a moment, brought home in Coleman’s moment-of-clarity reaction, to realize he “knows” nothing at all.

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