I Love You to Death Movie Review

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It's a film never particularly loved by audiences and unlikely to be rehabilitated by critics in the future, but I Love You to Death is nevertheless the perfect example of an overlooked gem. Coming right in the middle of director Lawrence Kasdan's extremely earnest period (The Accidental Tourist in 1988 and Grand Canyon in 1991), I Love You to Death took its cue from one of those true stories of horrific Americana that come bubbling through the tabloid mediasphere every few months and mined it for all its comic potential.

Kevin Kline plays Joey Boca - a guy who runs a pizza parlor in Seattle - as an oversexed, extremely Italian workaholic who is able to explain his chronic infidelity by saying with a straight face, "I'm a man, I got a lotta hormones in my body." It's a clown's performance, a filmmaker doesn't bring Kline in for this sort of role and demand subtlety but rather one that's so over-the-top it achieves a kind of genius that Kline also showcased in his similarly stereotypical role in A Fish Called Wanda (in that one, he played a clown's view of an American abroad, here he's the clowning pizza man, bad accent, bushy mustache and all).

Joey's wife, Rosalie (Tracey Ullman, underplaying it for once), finds out about his cheating with just about every woman in town (played by, in small roles, Heather Graham, Victoria Jackson, and even Mrs. Kline, Phoebe Cates), and, in a nutshell, decides to have him killed. Thus begins the comedy. First, Rosalie leaves it to her mom, Nadja (Joan Plowright, never funnier), who hires a guy to brain Joey with a baseball bat. Then there's an attempt to cut the brakes on Joey's car, which also fails, and so on. Finally, the women figure they can kill Joey by feeding him a massive pot of spaghetti with an entire bottle of sleeping pills. This only stuns him, so family friend Devo (River Phoenix) brings over a couple of druggies (William Hurt and Keanu Reeves) to finish the job off (which cues Nadja's best line as she reassures Rosalie about having drug addicts in her house: "Don't think of them as drug addicts, think of them as killers").

Kline's seeming inability to die (and utter cluelessness that Rosalie and Nadja are behind it) provide the best comic moments in the film, with others coming from Kasdan's inspired casting (who knew that William Hurt could be funny?). But the black humor is never overplayed here, which could help explain why the film has been so disregarded. Perhaps if Kasdan had gone for a more disgusting, Weekend at Bernie's-type of hijinks, audiences would have eaten it up. As it is, the comedy is mostly verbal, and occasionally quite witty. Additionally, while never allowing itself to become too sentimental, the film never lets it be forgotten that Rosalie deeply loves Joey, despite everything. So you could call it a romantic story of murder. Sort of.


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I Love You to Death Rating

" Excellent "

Rating: R, 1990


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