Classic movie optimism

Exploring stuff of downtown dreams

Published: Aug 17 2015, 01:01:am

Friday, March 5, 1993.
MAD DOG AND GLORY. Written by Richard Price. Music by Elmer Bernstein. Directed by John McNaughton.  Running time: 96 minutes. 14 Years Limited Admission with the warning: some violence, nudity, suggestive scenes and very coarse language.
    Careful, though. If you're Chicago police detective Wayne "Mad Dog" Dobie (Robert DeNiro), you may get what you wish for.
    Picture a genie.
    No, not Robin Williams. If you're looking for a leprechaun in the Second City, you're looking for somebody like Frank "The Money Store" Milo (Bill Murray), self-styled "expediter of your dreams."
    Surprise. There's a touch of Midwest magic in director John McNaughton's hard-edged fantasy-romance Mad Dog and Glory. A cop show with a wonderfully wry cast of characters, it turns a tale of sinister gratitude into the stuff that downtown dreams are made of.
    Just to be clear, detective Dobie is no "mad dog." A photographer serving in the police crime-scene unit, he's a mild-mannered night worker who hasn't drawn his gun in 15 years.
    Two nights ago, he saved the life of a man being held hostage by an armed robber. Last night, the man — gangland banker and part-time comedian Milo — insisted on knowing Dobie's innermost desires.
    Tonight, a young woman named Glory (Uma Thurman) arrives at his door. "You saved (Frank's) life," she says. "I'm, like, a thank-you present."
    Wait a minute. Dobie wished that he could be (1) handsome and (2) brave.
    What's going on here?
    Well, to begin again, director McNaughton is no pixie-dust picture maker. Best known for the disturbing psycho-shocker Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986), his feature is rooted in bare-knuckle, street-level reality.
    It opens with a double murder as explicit as any in recent film. DeNiro gives a straight, thoroughly convincing performance as the sad-eyed, anxious Dobie, and Murray proves that he can project John Vernon-like menace.
    On the face of it, Richard (Sea of Love) Price's screenplay is little more than a comically skewed thriller with some terrific turns for supporting players David Caruso (as Dobie's loyal, utterly fearless partner) and Mike Starr (as Milo's huge, apparently guileless bodyguard).
    The magic is in the assembly. McNaughton brings it together in a way that allows some unexpected, classic American movie optimism — the belief that good things should happen to good people — to transform the gritty storyline.
    At heart, it's an old-fashioned tale of good cops and crooks faithful to the code. See it and you'll see how one mad dog's wishes eventually come true.

The above is a restored version of a Province review by Michael Walsh originally published in 1993. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.

Afterword: There was a point in his career when actor Robert De Niro wished he could make people laugh. He'd established himself as a tough guy in 1973, when he starred as the psychotic Johnny Boy in Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets (the first of their eight films together). He won an Oscar for his performance as the young Vito Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather: Part II (1974). He was an Academy Award nominee for playing Travis Bickle, the troubled title character in Taxi Driver (1976), his second film for Scorese. Then there was 1982's The King of Comedy, his fifth Scorsese film, in which his demented, would-be comedian Rupert Pupkin made us cringe rather than chuckle. Finally, in 1985,  Brazil writer-director Terry Gilliam allowed De Niro to be really funny, casting him as renegade air-conditioning specialist and suspected terrorist Harry Tuttle. De Niro probably would want us to forget his leaden performance in Neil Jordan's filmed-in-Vancouver remake of We're No Angels (1989), a film that found him in a part once played by Humphrey Bogart.
     Though best remembered for such sinister characters as the Creature (in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein; 1994), Louis Cyphre, aka Lucifer (in Angel Heart; 1987) or Al Capone (in The Untouchables; 1987), De Niro has regularly sought comic relief. In the case of Mad Dog and Glory, reports say that he was offered the manipulative mobster role, but turned it down in favour of the kinder, gentler, potentially funnier love-struck cop. Celebrating his 72nd birthday today (August 17), Robert De Niro will next be seen in The Intern, a retirement-rejection comedy scheduled for release on September 25. In it, he plays a 70-year-old widower who takes a non-paying job working for a 30ish web entrepreneur (Anne Hathaway) because, well, retirement sucks.