Search & Destroy
directed by David Salle
(October Films, 1995)

Ask most American moviegoers to name a black comedy and chances are they'll say something like The Nutty Professor. True, there's something macabre yet funny about Eddie Murphy pretending he's Jerry Lewis, but nothing so special as to earn it the good black humor rating.

And then there's David Salle's Search & Destroy.

Just how Search & Destroy slipped through American theaters almost unnoticed is hard to figure.

True, its stars -- Griffin Dunne and Illeana Douglas -- are not exactly household names. But its supporting cast -- Dennis Hopper, John Turturro, Christopher Walken and Martin Scorcese -- have more than a few credits among them. And then there's the fact that it's simply gut-bustingly funny.

The humor, both black and white, revolves mostly around the attempts of booking agent Martin Mirkheim (Dunne) to obtain the film rights to a best-selling pop psychology novel by charismatic TV guru Dr. Luther Waxly (Hopper). Along the way, Mirkheim meets would-be scriptwriter Marie Davenport (Douglas), whose ambition is to quit working for and sleeping with Waxly and start selling scripts for bad horror movies.

Neither would have much chance of fulfilling their great American dreams, however, without the aid of wealthy New York businessman Kim Ulander (Walken), who might be a financial analyst for Pacific rim firms or might be a drug dealer, and his all-important contact Ron (Turturro), who might be a salon owner or might be a credit card counterfeiter.

Add to this the fact that Martin is a pathological liar with an unshakable faith in whatever it was he said last, and that Ulander does possibly the best jazz-tap-kabuki rendition of "Red River Valley" ever filmed, and you have the makings of a hilarious send-up of pop psychology panderers -- or would, if one of the characters didn't suddenly make the mistake of taking Waxling's rantings seriously.

Search & Destroy is that rarest of things: a comedy that doesn't take itself seriously, but can be taken seriously. It has a Chekovian sense of economy -- nothing is wasted, and nothing is missed. And it never fails to surprise, which, these days, is a surprise in itself.

On top of that, the performances, most notably Dunne's and Walken's, go well beyond convincing. And Hopper has never been so charismatic, or so scary. Hilariously scary, that is.

Rent this one, even if you have to skimp on the rent to do it.

[ by Miles O'Dometer ]

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