Michael J. Fox Checks Into NYC Screwball Comedy
DIRECTED BY BARRY SONNENFELD/1993
BLU-RAY STREET DATE: OCTOBER 26, 2021/KL STUDIO CLASSICS
Look out, Big Apple- Michael J. Fox is back in town, and he’s got his hands full!
That’s not a line from the trailer of the 1993 would-be screwball comedy For Love or Money, though it could be. Never the best actor around but likely the most charismatic, Fox always keeps busy in his film as he aims to please. This one materializes near the end of his superstar hot streak, which was initiated by the NBC sitcom Family Ties, and kicked into high gear with 1985’s Back to the Future.
Fox plays Doug Ireland, a well-connected fast-talking concierge at the finest hotel in Manhattan. Doug is great at his job of keeping wealthy guests happy and hooked up with whatever restaurant, Broadway show, or sporting events they desire. Need a fancy watch for your wife? Doug knows just the place. In a pinch with your exotic bird? Ring Doug. In his high-end suit and gold name tag, Doug spends his days zipping around town and through the hotel’s hallways while fielding one question after another. The guy is a whirling dervish of capitalist service with a smile. And what a smile it is.
All the while, Doug’s been squirreling away all his tips, the lion’s share of his checks, and every penny that he can spare, into a fund devoted to his dream: to own his very own amazing luxury hotel. He’s got it all staked out. He’ll need to purchase and rehab a dilapidated castle at the water’s edge. To do that, he needs just the right investor. Doug has made a practice of scoping out rich guys at the day job, keeping a copy of his business prospectus at the ready but just out of sight of his boss, played by the steely Udo Kier.
So what does he do? He hooks exactly the wrong billionaire. Christian Hanover (Anthony Higgins) is as obviously evil as white men in suits get in movies like this. Doug, though, thinks he’s finally got it made when this guy takes an interest. As Hanover manipulates Doug more and more into his designer pocket, he eventually comes through with the investment paperwork. Woohoo?
But, as the real trailer says, there’s just one problem… (Actually, there’s more than one problem with all of this- but clearly no one’s counting all that closely…). Gabrielle Anwar, fresh off dancing with Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman and looking far too cute-as-a-button for her role, plays aspiring singer Andy Hart… who is also Hanover’s current affair de jour. Hanover, quite visibly carrying on with Andy behind his wife’s back, promises Andy that he’s soon getting a divorce. Lie, all lies, of course. And doggonit, Doug has fallen hard for Andy. As the trailer also tells us, “And now, he needs to make up his mind- should he go for the gold, or go for the girl?”
Michael J. Fox movies, with very few obvious exceptions, are what they are. Like him, they entirely get by on energy and a charisma that the camera adores. This one, as intended, is driven by throwbacky screwball comedy stylings with farce-like elements. Director, former cinematographer, and all-around character in his own right Barry Sonnenfeld helms this, his second-ever feature, with almost enough aplomb to smooth over the fact that the details of the narrative are crap. In the worst moments of For Love or Money (a title so forgettable that I need to double check it several times while writing this review), there’s an embarrassing reliance on of-the-moment catch-phrase humor (Fox mutters to himself “I’ve fallen… and I can’t get up!”) that feel dropped in at the last minute. A strange, oh-so-1993 desperate choice in a movie that’s otherwise crafted of Golden Age sensibilities.
Kino Lorber’s new release of For Love or Money debuts an audio commentary by entertainment journalist and author Bryan Reesman, who’s trademark rapid delivery isn’t so out of place accompanying this film. He says a lot, detailing not just the actors and director, but also the locations themselves and various props and whatnot. Reesman zips down rabbit holes of his own making from time to time, so if you opt to click “play” on this, be prepared to keep up. The disc also offers a few vintage trailers for the film, accompanying an impressively vibrant transfer.
Considering that in a budget DVD collection of non-Back to the Future Michael J. Fox films, this one ranks pretty far down the list of titles (after the superior The Secret of My Success and the inferior The Hard Way), it’s hard to imagine the rather forgotten relic For Love or Money garnering much love or money these days. But, for those looking for a fun bit of old-time fluff, make a reservation with For Love or Money.