Nuts (1987) / Drama
MPAA Rated: R for language, sexuality and a scene of violence
Running Time: 116 min.
Cast: Barbra Streisand, Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Webber, Eli Wallach, Maureen Stapleton, Karl Malden, James Whitmore, Leslie Nielsen
Director: Martin Ritt
Screenplay: Tom Topor, Darryl Ponicsan, Alvin Sargent (from the play by Tom Topor)
Review published January 23, 2004
Barbra Streisand (Meet the Fockers, Yentl) stars as Claudia Draper, a high-price call girl who ends up getting charged with manslaughter after one of her johns is found nearly decapitated in her penthouse apartment. The doctors who have examined her ability to stand trial have pushed that she is mentally incapable, and should be institutionalized immediately. Claudia maintains she is sane, it is the doctors examining her that are incompetent, and they just don't like the fact that she is challenging their authority. Claudia doesn't exactly help her case when she ends up punching her own lawyer, allowing her to get stuck with legal aid attorney, Aaron Levinsky (Dreyfuss, Stakeout). Everyone is pushing for her to be put away as a crazy person, except Claudia, and despite all of the protests, Levinsky even goes against his own better judgment for a competency hearing.
Nuts is a highly emotional courtroom drama that has its share of contrivances, but does manage to rise above them due to the quality of the casting, as well as some very fine performances. Streisand succeeds in keeping the nature of her behavior ambiguous throughout, alternating between being unlikable and sympathetic to the point where even we question her ability to function. Dreyfuss also does a fine, subdued job as Levinsky, and the script, based on Tom Topor's play of the same name (reportedly based on an actual case), smartly doesn't make Levinsky some unknown whiz-kid who blows away the courtroom with previously unknown skills, as so many other courtroom dramas have done. Maureen Stapleton is dynamite as Claudia's mother, who looks like she is about to crack at every emotional seam.
The only thing keeping Nuts from being a truly good courtroom drama is the actual nature of the crime itself, and the reasons behind why Claudia did what she did. Shown in flashback mode, these scenes are awkwardly handled, with Leslie Nielsen (Scary Movie 3, The Naked Gun) belligerently insisting that the two bathe together to the point where violence ensues. It's just all too pat and predictable -- not to mention the struggle between Nielsen and Streisand is awkwardly choreographed. (Streisand should have opted for a stunt double if she were so afraid that Nielsen might muss her hair).
Despite the somewhat soggy story, Nuts still makes for an engaging, entertaining viewing, especially for fans of courtroom dramas. Also, Streisand fans will admire her gutsy performance, where she manages to alternate between alluring and despicable in convincing fashion, and is especially good during scenes of emotional breakdown. The results may be mixed (add mixed nuts joke here), but for a rental, it will keep you interested throughout.
©2004 Vince Leo