Wise Guys (1986) / Comedy
MPAA Rated: R for language and violence
Running Time: 100 min.
Cast: Danny DeVito, Joe Piscopo, Dan Hedaya, Lou Albano, Harvey Keitel, Ray Sharkey, Julie Bovasso, Patti LuPone, Antonia Rey
Director: Brian De Palma
Screenplay: George Gallo
Review published February 12, 2004
Although known primarily for his thrillers, director Brian De Palma (The Untouchables, Scarface) started off as mostly a comedic director, but with the exception of 1979's Home Movies, Wise Guys would be the first pure comedic vehicle he has done since Phantom of the Paradise in 1974. The hiatus may explain why De Palma chose to deliver his comedy in the broadest ways possible, with physical humor that rarely seen outside of children's fare. That's not to say that Wise Guys isn't funny, because there are some genuine laughs to be had. It's just that most of the funnier bits occur in the first half, and the final half hour is little more than slapstick-laced chase scenes, resulting in too much air being inflated from the comedy balloon to ever lift this off the ground.
DeVito (Batman Returns, Big Fish) is Harry, and his best friend is Moe (Piscopo, Johnny Dangerously), both on the bottom of the mob totem pole in Newark, New Jersey. In fact, they are so low, they are given assignments that are little more than errands for the boss, Castelo (Hedaya, Commando), who has them doing things like picking up his dry cleaning. They dream of being bigger fish than they are, so one day Harry decides to switch the bet Castelo places on the horses for what he feels is a sure thing, enough for them to try to start to make it on their own. However, things don't proceed according to plan, and Castelo amuses himself by giving the men their dream job of putting out a hit, hiring each of the men to kill the other as a measure of their respect and loyalty.
Although there is some adult language, Wise Guys is a light, innocuous mob flick that seeks to elicit chuckles above all else. How much you find it funny will largely depend on your own personal sense of humor, so if you don't care for broad, physical humor, you'd be advised to stay away. For those who enjoy the performers, and especially have a soft spot for hitman comedies like Analyze This, Wise Guys does make for a modestly entertaining diversion, even if it is ultimately too insubstantial to remember long afterwards.
De Palma directs in workmanlike fashion, never really delving into any of his trademark virtuoso shots, so fans of his style may be found left wanting. Solid writing is also provided by first-time screenwriter George Gallo (Midnight Run), once the initial premise is set, there isn't much he could go with it, and the momentum suffers as a result.
Wise Guys is likeable enough but just falls short of a recommendation for anyone who isn't a hardcore gangster comedy buff.
©2004 Vince Leo