*½/**** Image A- Sound A-
starring Steve Martin, Daryl Hannah, Shelley Duvall, Rick Rossovich
screenplay by Steve Martin, based on the play "Cyrano de Bergerac" by Edmond Rostand
directed by Fred Schepisi
by Walter Chaw After The Devil's Playground and The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith--both appearing in the middle of the Australian New Wave--the conventional wisdom was that Fred Schepisi was someone to watch. Then Hollywood called and he did what fellow 'wavers Peter Weir and Phillip Noyce did, punching the timecard on shit like Patriot Games, Sliver, and Dead Poets Society. A re-telling of "Cyrano de Bergerac", Edmund Rostand's play about a proboscis-challenged swordsman armed with the Blarney (in spades), Schepisi's noxious Roxanne stars a downhill-sliding Steve Martin and a Daryl Hannah who didn't yet know that Blade Runner and Splash would be the only things anyone would know her for until a career resurrection of sorts some fifteen years later with Kill Bill. I used to love this film. Time has been unkind.
A hallmark set-piece wherein our hero C.D. (Martin, also the film's screenwriter) verbally jousts with a drunk in a bar before beating him senseless (as is his psychotic M.O. throughout) feels elderly now, robbed of any charge it might have had by years of sharper writing in more daring scenarios. It's just not funny or clever anymore, how Martin adapts a 19th-century French play to 20th-century small-town America, transmogrifying Cyrano into a fire chief in charge of an engine of hapless buffoons. They provide the business when it's time to move from one awkward dialogue sequence to the next, essaying C.D. with his massive insecurity complex as he coaches handsome dolt Chris (Rick Rossovich) into the pants of loopy astronomer Roxanne (Hannah). The message is that appearances don't matter, but fuck, it sure doesn't hurt that Roxanne is Daryl Hannah and not Shelley Duvall, am I right? Indeed, how much more interesting would the film instantly become if Duvall's sisterly Dixie were played by Hannah and Roxanne by Duvall? Can't judge a book by its cover? C.D. does.
The sneaky thing about Roxanne--and clue to its enduring popularity--is that it's simultaneously a male and female fantasy. Male because a guy who looks like Steve Martin with a giant prosthetic dick on his face could score Daryl Hannah in the Eighties, female because there's the pretense that someone who looks like Hannah in the Eighties would be Catholic enough to even consider dating someone like C.D.. It's all softened by the fact that C.D. is a poet--but of course he's supernaturally agile and trained in the martial arts (which is also male fantasy). There's quite a lot lost in this translation, in fact, not in the words and motions, but in the idea that a more globalized world would suffer characters like a civil servant who regularly gets into fights in which he brutalizes people so rude as to notice the schnozz on his face.
As Roxanne is defended as a whimsical romantic fable, it's fair to wonder about the punchline Chris drops regarding his first-date fucking of Roxanne: that he was so nervous he wasn't able to perform...the third time. Ta-da! Roxanne is presented as a scientist on the verge of a major discovery as pre-emptive strike against charges of misogyny, but as characterized she's stupid, shallow, and insensitive. An extended foreplay sequence has C.D. literally speaking for Chris, to which Roxanne responds, "Hey, your voice sounds different!"--and then, whoops, it's panties askew and legs akimbo. Between the weird violence without consequence and overt flesh-peddling, there's time enough to offer Chris a dumber alternative in a slutty barmaid, thus mitigating the moment when C.D. is finally forced to reveal the truth and harvest himself that Seven Sisters prize so very impressed by vocabulary and a decent reading list. Roxanne is a love story from the guy who was The Jerk, not the guy who would eventually write Shopgirl; identifying it as a transitional film is completely accurate for its schizophrenia. As for Schepisi, he'd do better romance in the underestimated The Russia House, proving that for all the things this movie is, it's probably Martin's fault.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
Roxanne ripostes on Blu-ray in a perfectly adequate 2.40:1, 1080p transfer. The image is soft and two-dimensional, but credit for not DVNR'ing it to death and/or lathering on the edge-enhancement. While grain is evident in every shot, it's not a distraction for the most part, and flesh tones seem pretty good--even the area around Martin's prosthesis, though the seams are generally more obvious in HiDef. Apparently constituting a remix, the 5.1 Dolby TrueHD audio slobbers a lot of really, really awful Bruce Smeaton music into every crevice. Smeaton does great with instruments native to Australia--his work with Schepisi on Jimmie Blacksmith and Devil's Playground is honourable--but his score for this picture is the worst kind of jazz-fusion hummer. Blissfully, the only special features are Sony's standard Blu-ray cheerleading reel and HD trailers for The Pink Panther (which cues up on startup) and Made of Honor. Honestly, as far as remasters of high-concept Martin romances go, I'd rather have All of Me.
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