Drowning Mona

on March 03, 2000 by Bridget Byrne
It sounds like a funny idea. It's filled with people expert at being funny. It really wants to be funny. It tries hard to be funny. It isn't very funny. The black comedy concept and the stellar cast of "Drowning Mona" raises expectations for a rich fount of laughter but, though some of the more off-beat dialogue might raise a titter and some of the crasser moments a faint guffaw, basically this film--like its title character--is dead in the water. Bette Midler, despite a proliferation of flashbacks, doesn't really have enough screen time to round out the awfulness of Mona, a woman so lacking in human kindness it's a wonder someone hadn't done away with her even earlier. Meeting her demise in the opening moments of the movie, we are left to speculate on the killer as we re-visit the transgressions of the victim, who was the focus of the frustrations and fears of a bunch of small-town characters. Unfortunately those characters also seem pretty one-dimensional and the uneven tone of the movie fails to find enough high style to elevate them beyond cliché, though several of the actors give it their best. Danny DeVito, Neve Campbell and Jamie Lee Curtis all have the surety of star power and the confidence to seem truthful even amid awkward artifice.
   Some of the better moments of the movie are the simple, more realistic ones, such as DeVito, the police chief, dining at the cafe with Campbell, his beloved daughter who might know more than is good for her about the murder, while Curtis, the usually edgy waitress, makes nice for her own personal reasons. Curtis, in particular, has a real ability to find honesty within exaggeration, but the limitations of the crudely wrought script truncate her talent. Also this very New Jersey story is not helped by the location where the film was shot, which, despite all the best efforts of cast and crew, looks like California because it was. However, the film contains a lot of lively '70s pop music, which does contribute more successfully towards the sense of a time-warped town with outdated values, a theme which, more insightfully developed, might have raised that anticipated laughter. Starring Danny DeVito, Bette Midler, Neve Campbell and Jamie Lee Curtis. Directed by Nick Gomez. Written by Peter Steinfeld. Produced by Al Corley, Bart Rosenblatt, Eugene Musso. A Destination release. Comedy. Rated PG-13 for some thematic elements, language and brief sexuality. Running time: 91 min
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