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Overall Rating

Awesome: 8.33%
Worth A Look: 8.33%
Average: 8.33%
Pretty Bad66.67%
Total Crap: 8.33%

1 review, 6 user ratings

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Tough Guys Don't Dance
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by Chris Parry

"Waiter, there's a head in my stash."
2 stars

A weary ex-con with a penchant that he has talent as a writer wakes up one morning after an alcohol binge, having no memory of what he did the night before, how he got a tattoo, and why there’s a head where his pot stash used to be. If this sounds a little like the plot for Dude Where’s My Car, shame on you for having seen that film. As our hero pieces things together, it would seem that he’s been set up for a murder. Though he’s not sure. And we’re not sure either. In fact, I’m damned if I even know whose previously owned head is now in Ryan O’Neal’s pot stash, and I’ve seen the whole movie. It’s a mystery, and not an overly compelling one.

Ryan O’Neal stars as the bedraggled husband, seemingly being set upon from all angles. Looking his age in this 1987 attempted film noir, his lack of emotion is the complete polar opposite of newcomer Debra Sandlund’s portrayal of his evil southern belle wife. Sandlund, who hadn’t been on the silver screen before director Norman Mailer pulled her out his orifice, gives the kind of over the top performance that you’d expect from Richard Simmons doing Hamlet. Wings Hauser, as the cop on O’Neal’s case, bounces between Twin Peaks and Dirty Harry with a little Hemingway thrown in for good measure, and in the end becomes a sort of bizarre and near incomprehensible freak. He’s not alone. Isabella Rossellini also appears and proceeds to say about five words above the level of whisper.

Of the supporting actors, only Lawrence Tierney, as Ryan O’Neal’s father, gives you reason to keep watching, though his Mailer-esque dialogue is at times hard to swallow:

“I see ghosts all around me… they say ‘dance for me’… I say ‘tough guys don’t dance’… they say ‘keep dancing’…”

Dancing? I’m having enough trouble just staying awake!

There’s a multitude of sub-characters in this film, most of which have only nominal involvement in the plot, or at least nominal involvement that any audience is likely to understand. In fact, if you played this film for a test audience, I’d be very surprised if half of them could tell you what actually happened. That’s not because the plot is overtly twisted, rather it’s because the plot is simply overt. You’d have to imagine that having Norman Mailer direct a noir film would be a sure recipe for success, but Mailer seems to have other plans – plans that don’t necessarily have anything to do with a commercial return.

Which no doubt pissed off the Golam/Globus producing partnership – the men behind such opus works as Bolero, the Happy Hooker Goes Hollywood, Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo, Hot Resort, Lambada and Deathwish 4: The Crackdown. Arty noir where the entire plot is disguised by weird characters, wordy dialogue and some sort of subtle artistry is hardly what made Cannon Films what they are today – one step above Troma. Mailer, for his part, hadn’t directed a film since 1969 when this one was greenlit, and the three films he had directed in the 60’s were most assuredly underground, being as Mailer was very much a part of the Kenneth Anger/Jonas Mekas brigade. After Tough Guys Don’t Dance, his directing days were once again over.

Bottom line – Tough Guys Don’t Dance is somewhat compelling to watch, but it can be hard to follow and is even harder to find in any way realistic. The ‘tough guy’ dialogue might play well on the stage or in book form, but on the big screen it’s strictly yawn inducing. Though Mailer is certainly a literary giant, he doesn’t have the cinematic flair to adapt this kind of stuff to the big screen – especially with this lukewarm cast. Give it a miss.

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originally posted: 10/31/02 15:24:28
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User Comments

11/16/09 mr.mike Recall it as not living up to expectations. 3 stars
12/13/04 Bosma The views of Provincetown are great, the movie is stupid 2 stars
3/10/03 Jack Sommersby A flawed yet mesmerizing film. You can't take your eyes off it. 4 stars
1/03/03 raymond b a film that shits in your mouth and calls it a sundae 5 stars
11/01/02 Charles Tatum Ryan O'Neal attempting to emote is impossible to witness 1 stars
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  02-Sep-1987 (R)


  02-Sep-1987 (MA)

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