What’s the Worst That Could Happen?
Has any movie title ever more openly invited sarcastic wisecracks than this one? I won’t resist, then. The worst that could happen is that a perfectly wonderful and funny book by the great Donald E. Westlake should fall into the hands of cretins from Hollywood who have no idea how to make a movie with any wit or intelligence. John Dortmunder and his gang are among the best comic creations ever. They are featured in 14 novels, beginning with The Hot Rock in 1970, and ending with Get Real in 2009, just before Westlake’s death. Five of them have been filmed, and only one of them mostly got it right. Oddly, it’s was the first one, where Robert Redford was totally miscast, physically, as Dortmunder, and yet the was the only one who really captured Dortmunder’s character. John is a pessimist, and some might call him a loser, a small-timer. And yet he’s a superb planner. He’s usually led reluctantly into the crazy schemes Westlake dreams up. (In Bank Shot, he finally has to agree that it would be possible to steal a bank, just drive away with it, before robbing it!) I would dearly love to see just one more of these books filmed faithfully, and well.
Not a chance. The best I can hope for is small gleams here and there that remind me that the screenwriter actually read the book before wiping his ass with it. So … change Gloomy John into a sassy black man played by Martin Lawrence? Well, okay. Maybe the lovely plot will survive. And for about half the movie, much of it does. Danny de Vito is an asshole billionaire who is in financial trouble, in bankruptcy as part of a devious scheme. As such, he’s forbidden to be in one of his many mansions. This is good, de Vito is good at playing assholes. But the man thumbs his nose at the courts, and is in residence with Miss September when John breaks in to rob him. He gets the drop on John, and as the cops are taking him away he claims John’s “lucky ring” actually belongs to him. The cops give him the ring. This infuriates Dortmunder, who escapes, and devotes himself to getting the ring back, in the process taking so much stuff in four or five capers that the billionaire is ruined. Only not here. Here, in this piece of shit movie, they end up being buddy-buddy. Ruining the asshole is funny; becoming his friend is not funny, it’s stupid. What a disaster, from what have been such a good movie.