Movie review: ‘Easy Money’

After his success on the big screen with the comedy classic “Caddyshack,” it took Rodney Dangerfield three more years to get another film. Given how “Caddyshack” was received, he would have had a three-picture deal today within 24 hours of the opening. In any case, “Easy Money” from 1983 is billed as Dangerfield’s first starring role, but while it’s funny … it’s no “Caddyshack” but better than many.

‘Easy Money’
(1983; 95 minutes; rated R; directed by James Signorelli and starring Rodney Dangerfield, Joe Pesci and Geraldine Fitzgerald)

THE MONEY IS NOT SO EASY FOR RODNEY

In the Rodney Dangerfield world of film comedy, his role as “Al Czervik” in “Caddyshack” is tops. The words are great (some written for him; a bunch ad libbed) and his physical comedy is perfect but he wasn’t the headliner. After that, I’d say that “Back to School” is his next best and his best leading role.

So, that being written, I’ll look at “Easy Money” today only because noted satirist and former National Lampooner P.J. O’Rourke is a co-writer of the screenplay. Although not up to the extremely high bar set by “Caddyshack” and “Back to School,” “Easy Money” is good, especially its supporting players Taylor Negron and Joe Pesci (who doesn’t curse as much here or kill anyone since Martin Scorsese isn’t around).

Dangerfield plays “Monty Capuletti,” a children’s photographer with a lot of bad habits. He smokes; he drinks; he gambles; and he does other bad things such as keeping certain items in a “roach motel” in his medicine cabinet and has white hand-rolled “carrots” fall out of his “Bobby Bunny” puppet while taking pictures at a kid’s birthday party. Whew. Still, by today’s MTV/TruTV standards he’d be the square on a realty show.

Just as Dangerfield’s oldest daughter (Jennifer Jason Leigh as “Allison Capuletti” in her first post-“Fast Times at Ridgemont High” film) is getting married, his mother-in-law hatches a plan to make him prove his worth. She’s filthy rich and pretends to die. As the terms of her will states, Dangerfield must give up all of his bad habits for a year to inherit. As all his friends say, it’s “easy money.”

Well, maybe not so easy. Dangerfield at first says no, but succumbs to his insistent youngest daughter’s harangue as she sees the dollar signs at the end of the tunnel.

Dangerfield plays this one as you might imagine him in real life: each day is a stand-up routine. He eases through one scene to the next and manages to convey more than just his wise-cracking side. No one nominated him for an Oscar for this one, but he gets a hit here … it’s just not a homerun.

Trouble lurks in all corners: a neighbor (planted to make sure he fails) tries to lure him with a bad thing (as well as his girlfriend) and he’s constantly around guys who smoke, gamble and do all the things he cannot now do. One great scene is what’s in the background while Dangerfield works out at a park. It’s very funny and a nice touch by the filmmakers.

In addition to “Easy Money,” Dangerfield did other comedies including the kid soccer film “Ladybugs” and “Little Nicky” as well as being way out of his usual character as the sickening father in “Natural Born Killers.” Dangerfield died at the age of 82 in 2004 from complications from heart surgery.

The Oscar-nominated Geraldine Fitzgerald (for “Wuthering Heights” in 1939, not “Easy Money”) plays “Mrs. Monahan,” the bossy, tightfisted mother-in-law who wants to run Dangerfield’s life since her daughter made the mistake of marrying him. Fitzgerald, who was also rich matriarch “Martha Bach” in the original “Arthur” film and its sequel, does a wonderful job as the crusty keeper of the family fortune. Her career spanned seven decades, beginning with “Blind Justice” in 1934. She passed away at the age of 91 in 2005.

Taylor Negron, another “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” veteran, does an outstanding supporting turn as “Julio,” Dangerfield’s slightly sleazy but ultimately good-natured and faithful son-in-law. Negron makes you laugh in every scene and he is funniest when he’s trying to break into Dangerfield’s house because Leigh won’t talk to him after their honeymoon night fiasco. You’d have to see it to fully enjoy it (especially when he says, “I am the man!”). Leigh isn’t as impressive, but she doesn’t have much to work with here (and her accent’s a bit strained).

Negron was also in “Punchline,” “Angels in the Outfield” and “The Deported,” while Leigh was also in “Miami Blues,” “Single White Female” and “The Hudsucker Proxy.”

Pesci is good here as Dangerfield’s best friend “Nicky Cerone” and is as blustery and arrogant as you might imagine. It’s not his best role (his comedy was much better in “Home Alone”) but certainly lighter than the evil gangsters he’d play in “GoodFellas” and “Casino.”

Two other supporting actors, Val Avery and Tom Noonan, do a workman like job. Avery, who was in “The Wanderers” (click here to read my review), “Papillion” and “Donnie Brasco” (click here for my review), plays “Louie” the insightful bartender, while Noonan plays “Paddy” from Dangerfield’s entourage (he was also in “Manhunter” – click here for my review – and “Heat”).

Everything works out in the end for Dangerfield and he closes out the film with one of his great mother-in-law jokes.

A final note on the cast: I won’t mention the work by supporting actor Jeffrey Jones here. I didn’t miss his performance; I just prefer not to write about him.

Easy Money” was the 26th ranked film at the domestic box office in 1983 with $29.3 million, according to Box Office Mojo. As an R-rated comedy it didn’t do as well as the equally R-rated and even better “Trading Places” ($90.4 million), the still better “National Lampoon’s Vacation” ($61.3 million) and the not-so-great “Porky’s II: The Next Day” ($33.7 million). It was even behind the PG-rated comedy “Mr. Mom” ($64.7 million). The No. 1 film for the year was “Star Wars: Episode VI — Return of the Jedi” at $252.5 million.

Other film and cast notes (via IMDb.com):

© Chuck Curry and A Gator in Naples, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Chuck Curry and A Gator in Naples with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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