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Volume 3, Number 12
December, 1998

You Gotta See This Home Fries

by Ealasaid Haas

Henry Leaver was many things: a husband, a stepfather, a hard worker, an adulterer.

Now he's dead. Very dead. Was it his weak heart that did him in, sitting in a field in the middle of the night? Or was it his love of Burger-Matic vanilla milkshakes and Sally (Drew Barrymore), the drive-thru girl, who is carrying his child? Or maybe it was the AH-1 Cobra helicopter that chased him out of his stalled station wagon and shot at him.

Regardless of the cause of death, he's left behind a very complicated web of family and friends. His manipulative widow (Catherine O'Hara) is far more upset by her dead husband's infidelity than his death. His stepsons Dorian (Luke Wilson) and Angus (Jake Busey) are both Army National Guardsmen and Cobra helicopter pilots. Their attempt to scare Henry back into fidelity (for their mother's sake) by chasing him in their helicopter was perfect, except that someone else was on their radio frequency that night... and everything points to the lovely young woman working the drive-through window at the local Burger-Matic. Sally says she doesn't know anything, except that her headset sometimes picks up truckers and radio stations. Angus, however, thinks she should be eliminated anyway, just to be safe. But as Dorian gets closer to Sally, he starts to think that he doesn't really want to kill her. He d actually rather marry her.

"Home Fries" tells the story of this incredibly dysfunctional family, and does so withsurprising deftness. Granted, it's pretty obvious from the beginning just who will end up together at the end (heck, we see our protagonists holding hands on the movie posters), but what happens along the way is often far from predictable. This is a movie where just about anything can happen.

A great deal of "Home Fries" strength comes from its stars. Sally comes from a less-than-perfect home (her mother has a restraining order against her drunkard father, but bails him out of jail after his drinking sprees anyway) but is full of sweetness and charm, as well as a subtle strength, and Barrymore is able to let us see that. Wilson brings a wonderful sincerity to Dorian, who isn't particularly brilliant, but isn't stupid either, just ruled by his mother and brother. O'Hara is perfect as Mrs. Leaver: Machiavellian types are fairly stereotypical, but she plays her character with such relish that it's fun to watch. Angus, who will do anything for his mother, is also rather two-dimensional, but Busey brings so much intensity to the part that he's a perfect partner for O'Hara's widow. As simplistic as the characters are, they are played flawlessly, with none of the embarrassment that is the death-knell of movies like last summer's Batman and Robin. And while they may be cookie-cutter character types (The Soft-Hearted Hero With A Secret, The Imperfect Girl With A Heart Of Gold, The Psycho Mom, etc.), the people in this film are consistent. More importantly, the heroes are sympathetic while the villains are deliciously over-the-top bad.

The film's background music fits it perfectly. This is a feel-good film, with feel-good rock tying the scenes together. Songs like "Baby Did a Bad Thing" are used as recurring themes, and a cameo by "Macarena" drew chuckles from the audience.

The bottom line is: if you like light-hearted, brain candy romances or off-kilter comedies, you'll like "Home Fries". If, on the other hand, you love art films and insist on real, complete characters interacting in real situations, go elsewhere.
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