Home Fries (1998)
Directed by Dean Parisot

Artistic Value: * *
Entertainment Value: * * *

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While working at the drive-through window of the Burger Matic, a pregnant young woman named Sally (Drew Barrymore) hears a strange conversation over her radio headset. What she does not realize is that she is listening to the two stepsons of her much older, married lover scaring that man to death by chasing him in a helicopter and shooting at him with blanks. When these same two men subsequently realize that someone overheard them killing their philandering stepfather, one of the brothers, Dorian (Luke Wilson), gets a job at the Burger Matic to find out what this person knows. Instead of doing so, however, he falls in love with Sally, which brings him into conflict with his manipulative mother (Catherine O'Hara) and his nearly psychotic brother Angus (Jake Busey), both of whom want the mistress of the dead man killed.

Dean Parisot's Home Fries is a generally fun and frequently appealing movie that is, unfortunately, burdened by such an overdone ending that watching it is not, ultimately, a completely satisfying experience.

Before going astray, however, the director does include several visually charming and humorous moments in his film. At one point, for instance, Parisot places his camera directly above the very pregnant Sally so that her huge, swaying belly fills much of the screen. Elsewhere, he presents the viewer with images of Dorian in an absolutely ridiculous robot costume, of gratuitously weeping mourners, of a dilapidated shack housing a family of hillbillies, and much more.

In addition to such visual elements, the director has enlivened his tale with numerous surprisingly engaging or funny jokes, scenarios, characters, and the like. Some of the comic lines Parisot inserts into the mouths of his characters at various times throughout Home Fries are actually clever, and a number of his depictions of the eccentricities of his protagonists' wildly dysfunctional families, though sometimes horrific, are truly hilarious. While his approach, by emphasizing the peculiarities of his often weird and neurotic characters, may not be especially inventive or subtle, the director has, nonetheless, imbued these persons with such energy that they are sure to amuse and, occasionally, affect the moviegoer. Home Fries is, consequently, a genuinely touching and frequently funny film.

Sadly, instead of concluding his overheated, melodramatic, but always light-hearted and charmingly odd narrative with an equally peculiar, equally humorous ending, Parisot gives in to excess and burdens his movie with a dull, completely uninspired and utterly unmoving chase sequence. Not only are the film's final moments out of keeping with the tone of everything that came before them, they are so manipulative and so filled with inconsistencies that they really are distracting.

Whatever the movie's faults, most of the actors do acquit themselves well. Barrymore, in particular, is a delight as Sally. She brings to life a simple but vivacious and wonderfully quirky young woman who is able to charm the viewer and involve him in her world. Even though her performance is likely the best in the film, she is hardly the only person who deserves recognition for her work. Luke Wilson creates a weak willed and shy love interest whose faults, though severe, do not prevent the viewer from caring for him. Jake Busey does a good job of portraying a near lunatic obsessed with the best ways of carrying out a murder and with pleasing his mother, and Catherine O'Hara successfully infuses her horrid, conniving character with such a nasty underhandedness and selfishness that she is an absolute pleasure to watch.

While the conclusion of Home Fries may be clumsy and may take away from the film's enjoyableness, it does not, by any means, ruin the movie. In fact, on the whole, Parisot has made a funny and entertaining comedy.

Review by Keith Allen

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