Disorganized Crime

January 11, 2012

Disorganized Crime reworks a formula that has reaped considerable benefits for Disney’s Touchstone Pictures: mixing action with comedy. Touchstone has varied the formula from buddy movies to outright slapstick (examples include Stakeout, Shoot to Kill, and Three Fugitives), but all feature guns and laughs.

The screenwriter of Stakeout, Jim Kouf, has tried his hand at directing with Disorganized Crime, from his own original script. Kouf’s previous work reflects the fact the he has obviously studied some classic comedies. With Disorganized Crime, he has borrowed from the venerable tradition of heist movies.

It’s a pretty smart tack, because a heist movie has almost indestructible appeal. You watch a caper set up, then you watch it play out. The suspense is built in, and the last half of the movie generally takes care of itself.

In Disorganized Crime, the heist is the movie’s best sustained sequence. Unfortunately, Kouf has his problems with the rest of the picture.

A veteran bank robber (Corbin Bernsen) scopes out a bank in a small Montana town and finds it to his liking. He sends messages to four of his best colleagues in crime, asking them to gather for the job. But before they hit town, he’s arrested by a couple of bumbling New Jersey cops (Ed O’Neill and Daniel Roebuck) and thrown in the town jail.

Meantime, the team arrives. Looming, marvelous Fred Gwynne plays the wise old pro of the group, a calm-handed explosives expert. Lou Diamond Phillips plays a cool young robber, while Ruben Blades gets the best wardrobe (and the best lines). Rounding out the quartet is William Russ (terrific last year in a series of episodes on TV’s “Wise Guy”) as a temperamental safecracker.

Without their ringleader, these guys sit around an empty house in the mountains for a while, wondering what to do and getting on each other’s nerves. Kouf runs out of material for them quite soon, and a side plot about Bernsen escaping from the police never takes off.

More damagingly, Kouf doesn’t have much sense of comedic timing (which he established in his first film as director, Miracles). He becomes desperate, using and reusing jokes about pig slop and emphasizing four-letter words when he runs out of things to say, which happens early on.

First published in the Herald, April 20, 1989

Mr. Kouf has had a long career, still going strong, and clearly has a knack for grabby movie-movie ideas (he wrote The Hidden and, with director Robert Greenwalt, Secret Admirer, which ought to be remembered as a classic 1980s youth comedy but for some reason isn’t; Kouf and Greenwalt are currently involved in TV’s “Grimm”). So I got nothing against the guy, except possibly this movie. Co-stars Russ and Roebuck returned for Kouf’s 2010 directing effort, A Fork in the Road. This was a promising time for Russ, a strong second lead, and a nice run for Fred Gwynne, who’d finally gotten out from under the shadow of Herman Munster with unexpectedly awesome appearances in Luna and The Cotton Club and a few other things.

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