Easy Money (1983)

Rating: C+

Dir: James Signorelli
Star:  Rodney Dangerfield, Joe Pesci, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Candy Azzara

How you’ll feel about this likely depends on how you feel about Dangerfield in general, since this is largely a feature-length version of his “I don’t get no respect!” stand-up schtick. Here, he plays “Monty” Capuletti, a New Jersey baby photographer, who is basically a slob with, as he freely admits, no willpower, and a resulting fondness for booze, soft drugs and gambling. His rich mother-in-law hates him with a passion, and when she dies in a plane crash, her will leaves $10 million to her daughter, Monty’s wife Rose (Azzara), only if Monty can give up all vices for a full year. Spurred on by a surprising degree of familial devotion, Monty goes cold turkey. Of course, it won’t be easy, especially with sources of stress including his daughter Allison (Leigh) and best friend Nicky (Pesci).

You could play a drinking game here, taking a swig every time someone says “Fuhgedaboudit!”, and the film basically plays into all the obvious tropes. Yet, it clearly does so with some affection: if you don’t find yourself joining in with the wedding sing-along, you’re made of sterner stuff than I. Even the mother-in-law, played by the venerable Geraldine Fitzgerald, turns out to be both smarter and kinder than she initially appears. She also gets one of the best zingers, saying of Monty, “His entire body is bloodshot!” The chemistry between Dangerfield and Pesci is obvious, with Monty and Nicky just feeling like they are two people who have been pals forever, and their scenes are a pleasure to watch.

I’m not so sure the subplot about Allison and her Hispanic husband works so well, and it’s a bit of a relief when the main thread of the conditional inheritance finally shows up. Conversely, it looks as if Monty’s rival for that money, Clive (Jeffrey Jones), is going to try and sabotage our hero’s efforts to stay on the wagon, but this goes no further than sending over some unsolicited pizzas. With $10 million on the line, a bit more effort seems warranted. But it’s an amiable enough comic romp, propelled largely by Dangerfield’s persona and spattered with one-line putdowns, such as telling the parents of a rather plump child he’s photographing. “This kid wouldn’t fit in a wallet size.”

Oddly, one of the credited writers was the Republican Party Reptile himself, political satirist P.J. O’Rourke, not that you could really tell from the script. And director Signorelli had only one other film to his credit, Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, which may be closer to this than you’d first think. Both have a central character who is perpetually cracking wise, and it’s fair to say Elvira also “don’t get no respect” in that movie either. It is very much a product of its time – no comedy these days could open with its middle-aged hero telling a five-year-old, “Call me when you’re 20”. But mostly through Dangerfield’s force of personality, I have to conclude that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.