A screwball whodunit set in an upstate New York hamlet full of highly motivated potential murderers, "Drowning Mona" is kind of a Robert Altman ensemble movie gone wrong.
Funny in fits and starts, the story opens with the tyrannical title character, played by Bette Midler, driving her Yugo off a cliff into a river. It's a tragedy that doesn't seem to have anyone in town all that broken up.
Upon hearing the news, her dimwitted, stoner, bully of a lay-about son (Marcus Thomas) only wants to know "What was she doing driving my car!" After making a half-assed attempt to feign grief, her cheatin' and brow-beaten husband (William Fichtner) drives off for a happier than usual rendezvous with his mullet-haired, diner waitress concubine (Jamie Lee Curtis). Everybody else in town tries -- although not very hard -- to stifle the fact that they're pleased as punch Mona has met her end.
When the local lesbian mechanic (Kathleen Wilhoite) discovers the car's break lines cut, the lackadaisical sheriff (Danny Devito) has to start asking questions. In a series of interrogation-inspired flashbacks, we soon find out why no one was sorry to see her go: Mona Dearly was an abusive, furious, foul-mouthed hellcat who made life insufferable for everyone around her. The question isn't "Who wanted her dead?" The question is, "Who didn't?"
Directed by Nick Gomez ("Illtown"), "Mona" comes off as smugly self-amused for a movie that uses its one-note character quirks as a comedy crutch. In addition to the aforementioned handful of kooks, you got your narcisitic deputy (Peter Dobson) who seems to model himself after Erik Estrada on "CHiPs," and two more cops of the Keystone variety. You got your lecherous undertaker (Will Ferrell) with the nasty comb-over. You got your drunkard barkeep and your barfly priest.
Affleck ("200 Cigarettes") is almost unrecognizable as a Wonder Bread milksop who has a startup landscaping business that his partner, Mona's do-nothing son, had been running into the ground with his mama's persnickety help. All cracking voice and 98-pound weakling mannerisms, he gives an ingratiating performance of sympathetic wimpdom.
But it's Campbell who just about steals the movie as Affleck's sugar-and-spice fiancée and sheriff's daughter. The kind of girl who wears Laura Ashley and lip gloss, and uses half a can of AquaNet to anchor the flip in her lemon-streaked hair, this role is the furthest and funniest Campbell has ventured from her "Scream"/"Party of Five" personas and she's so astutely comical that "Mona" is almost worth seeing just for her.
However, aside from every suspect pointing fingers at everyone else and the hilariously evident fact that this whole town is trapped in 1985 -- the year the Yugo was test-marketed here, and everyone still drives one -- "Drowning Mona" is a middling comic mystery.
The cast is clearly having a blast (especially Midler) mocking some familiar small town personalities, but the pic is only little bit funny about half of the time. It just doesn't add up to the kind of laughs you want to pay to see. Perhaps when it's on HBO in eight months or so, I might put it in my channel-surf rotation during, say, an afternoon of ironing.
Run time: 96 mins
In Theaters: Friday 3rd March 2000
Box Office Worldwide: $15.4M
Distributed by: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Production compaines: Neverland Films, Code Entertainment
Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 29%
Fresh: 22 Rotten: 54
IMDB: 5.6 / 10
Director: Nick Gomez
Starring: Danny DeVito as Chief Wyatt Rash, Bette Midler as Mona Dearly, Neve Campbell as Ellen Rash, Jamie Lee Curtis as Rona Mace, Casey Affleck as Bobby Calzone, William Fichtner as Phil Dearly, Marcus Thomas as Jeff Dearly, Peter Dobson as Lt. Feege Gruber, Kathleen Wilhoite as Lucinda, Tracey Walter as Clarence, Will Ferrell as Cubby the Funeral Director, Paul Ben-Victor as Deputy Tony Carlucci, Paul Schulze as Deputy Jimmy D., Mark Pellegrino as Murph Calzone, Raymond O'Connor as Father Tom Stowick, Melissa McCarthy as Shirley
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