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With: Danny DeVito, Bette Midler, Neve Campbell, Jamie Lee Curtis, Casey Affleck, Tracey Walter, Will Ferrell
Written by: Peter Steinfeld
Directed by: Nick Gomez
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some thematic elements, language and brief sexuality
Running Time: 95
Date: 01/02/2000

Drowning Mona (2000)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Isn't She Dead?

by Jeffrey M. Anderson

Bette Midler, as Mona Dearly, dies during the opening credits of Drowning Mona. Every other member of the cast seems to have had a motive for killing her. And no one seems to miss her. This is exactly the kind of thing I was fantasizing about as I suffered through the horrendous Midler disaster Isn't She Great last month. Drowning Mona is like sweet revenge.

Danny DeVito co-stars as the police chief of Verplanck, New York who feels duty-bound to try and find out who killed Mona. On a side note, Verplanck is a typical American podunk town that was the first location chosen by Yugo to test drive its cars. Now everyone in Verplanck has a Yugo. The usual suspects in this case are: Mona's husband Phil (William Fichtner), her son Jeff (Marcus Thomas), Jeff's business partner Bobby (Casey Affleck), and Bobby's fiancee Ellen (Neve Campbell), who happens to be the daughter of police chief DeVito. Jamie Lee Curtis also stars as Rona, a diner waitress with a bad mullet hairdo.

The movie, directed by the unsung Nick Gomez (Laws of Gravity and episodes of "The Sopranos"), manages to keep up a full head of steam despite repeating the same essential jokes over and over again. The first joke is that no one misses Mona; the second joke is that the rest of the Dearly family are no treasures themselves; and the third joke is the Yugo thing. I can't say why, but I laughed a lot at Drowning Mona. Maybe it's because I grew up in (and survived) a small town similar to Verplanck, or maybe it's because I have a soft spot for pitch black comedies like this one.

By the way, Midler fans will be pleased to know that the Divine Miss M does show up occasionally during the movie thanks to the magic of flashbacks. But it's DeVito, Affleck, and Campbell that are the glue of this movie. They're the nice people that we latch onto. Campbell is especially good, playing a hick girl with lots of hairspray. She's not stunningly intelligent by any means, but she's not played as a parody either. She comes across as alarmingly simple and good-hearted.

The little moments matter here as well. The entire police force is lazy and laid-back. Most of the time they're either standing around or sitting around poking at things and taking life slowly. DeVito and his daughter share a passion for movie musicals. Not just any movie musicals, mind you, but bad movie musicals like Xanadu (1980). We get glimpses of characters in small privileged moments, like driving their cars or eating a meal. These characters are such small town specimens that we feel like they're being magnified a million times from a petri dish. They're fun to watch.

So Drowning Mona is a black comedy with a heart. It sounds like a cliché, but I admired the movie for never cheating itself. It always keeps the right tone, and, above all, it's very funny.

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