THE WAR OF THE ROSES (1989)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 56 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

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Directed by: Danny DeVito

Written by: Michael J. Leeson

(based on the novel THE WAR OF THE ROSES by Warren Adler)

Starring: Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner, Danny DeVito, Marianne Sagebrecht, Dan Castellaneta, Sean Astin, Heather Fairfield

Marriage can be a beautiful thing and most of the time it is. After all, what could be more romantic than showing that special someone you want to spend the rest of your life with them? Bad marriages usually lead to divorces and bad divorces can lead to grown adults acting like stubborn children. This is the center of dark comedy that WAR OF THE ROSES focuses on. Based on Warren Adler’s novel of the same name and being the second theatrically released directorial effort by Danny DeVito, ROSES is sure to be a polarizing experience for anyone who’s ever known a couple going through a similar separation.

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Narrated by lawyer Gavin D’Amato relating an old experience to his new client, the film begins with a young man named Oliver making the acquaintance of Barbara. The two come from different strokes of life, but fall head over heels for one another. The couple are quickly married and wind up having two children. Life is difficult as Oliver is carving out a career and Barbara tries to keep her cool with the ever-growing stress, but things are working out. Ironically as life becomes more successful for the family, the married Roses head in different emotional directions. Eventually things lead to a messy divorce and it becomes a battle between the couple for ownership of their huge house. Both Oliver and Barbara play dirty, go low, and become completely despicable people. It’s all for the entertainment of the viewer and this is one hell of an entertaining film.

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Danny DeVito specializes in making dark comedies. Of his eight visits to the directing chair, six of those projects have been dark comedies. WAR OF THE ROSES is actually on the lighter side of his twisted laughs. It’s not as dark as THROW MAMA FROM THE TRAIN or DUPLEX, nor does it reach the outrageously gruesome levels of DEATH TO SMOOCHY. However, it can get uncomfortably awkward on plenty of occasions. The material can be a little sensitive and emotionally cringe-worthy in nature. Things go far over-the-top, but the film works far better when the jabs are kept under a mask of civility and strictly to insult-heavy verbal sparring. The final third is where the material spirals out of control onto a ludicrous level of mayhem. It is also here where the movie has what I will call the weakest moment.

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Nearly every detail up until the final third (with a pointless scene here and there) were intricately set up. The chemistry between Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner was palpable. The viewer could easily buy that these two would be in love with each other and the fall out of love was handled realistically well. We can buy where both characters are coming from and the film doesn’t become an all-out battle of the sexes. By the time things have reached a ridiculous suspension of disbelief, viewers might find themselves rooting purely for one character or for both of them to lose in some way. Everything was structured in a real world setting and things take a turn for the far-fetched finale that drags on a bit too long.

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The conclusion may have packed more of a punch if some time was shaved off and the same can be said for a couple of other moments. The technique of cutting back to DeVito’s lawyer character narrating was used too often and took me out of the story at hand for a few minutes every time we saw him again. There is also one particularly not-so-funny scene that both fell flat and was utterly pointless. With these pacing and narrative problems aside, the movie is very entertaining for those who like a funny view of darker topics.

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For a DeVito directed dark comedy, WAR OF THE ROSES is on the lighter side in content and on the more successful side in overall execution. ROSES is a comedy that I’m glad I hunted down (it’s currently out of print, but available on for rent on Amazon Instant). I wouldn’t pay an outrageous price for a hard copy, but I would recommend renting it or borrowing it from a friend. This is an unconventionally polar opposite of a romantic comedy that delivers on the laughs, even if things get too wild and crazy at points.

Grade: B

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