MOVIE REVIEWS: ONE WISTFUL, THE OTHER WILD : The ‘Outrageous Fortune’(s) of Two Unlikely Friends

Times Staff Writer

Talk about an unlikely mix.

In the often-hilarious “Outrageous Fortune” (citywide), Shelley Long and Bette Midler meet in Manhattan at an audition with a very grand Russian drama coach (Robert Prosky). Long’s Lauren is the product of private schools, Yale and $32,000 of her parents’ money, all of it invested in her determination to become an actress.

Midler’s Sandy, on the other hand, is a one-time waitress with a Maerose Prizzi accent, fresh from a role in “Ninja Vixen” that paid her twenty-five hundred bucks.

Lauren has prepared relentlessly for the audition and hit up her father for an additional five grand for the coaching. Sandy waltzes in without any preparation whatsoever--and lands a scholarship. Sandy, who all too accurately guesses that the up-tight, dedicated Lauren hasn’t had sex in a year, is all confidence and Lauren is all seriousness, and there’s just no way these two are ever going to be friends. But just wait a minute.


Debuting writer Leslie Dixon has come up with a female bonding movie in “Outrageous Fortune” that allows Long and Midler to be sensational together and as individual presences. Under Arthur Hiller’s direction, “Outrageous Fortune” has the smart, raucous drive of Touchstone’s previous hits “Down and Out in Beverly Hills” and “Ruthless People,” but don’t expect the satirical thrust of those movies. This is a very broad comedy-adventure, pure and simple, in which the laughs come with gratifying regularity, much as they did in Hiller’s “The In-Laws” and “Silver Streak.” (There are deft touches, however, particularly in the beginning.)

Long and Midler are so good they almost make us forget that “Outrageous Fortune” is yet another elaborate chase movie with the usual comic CIA and KGB stooges and vast, familiar stretches of Southwestern deserts.

Dixon shrewdly develops Lauren and Sandy’s highly individual personalities with great care, then permits Long and Midler to show how, once they are thrown together in the craziest of circumstances, the two could actually become friends. There’s a nice woman behind Lauren’s pretensions, just as there’s a warmth and vulnerability beneath Sandy’s brassy facade.

Lauren has met this terrific guy Michael (Peter Coyote) who puts a swift end to her celibacy. He’s handsome, debonair, a great lover and single. At the moment she’s succumbing to his charms, she wonders if he isn’t too good to be true. How very right she is. Not in her wildest dreams could she imagine the complications that arise from such a seeming idyll, beginning with the discovery that she’s sharing him with Sandy, of all people. Clearly, Michael is not the man he seems.

Because “Outrageous Fortune” is anchored in the reality that Long and Midler bring so smashingly to Lauren and Sandy, the film can take off into ever wilder and woollier antics without flying out of control: To be able to believe in Lauren and Sandy is to be able to go along with all that befalls them. Others are in there pitching, too: Coyote is the sexy heavy you love to hate; Prosky is also amusingly not quite what he seems, and George Carlin brightens up the second half of the picture as a laughably spaced-out aging hippie who’s never recovered from the ‘60s.

In black tights, high heels and baggy sweaters, Midler looks terrific and seems to have discovered her screen identity as a character actress. Long continues to be one of the loveliest, most intelligent and charmingly funny actresses on the screen. Comedies that work are too rare not to be grateful for, but “Outrageous Fortune” (MPAA-rated: R for raunchy repartee) does make you eager to see Long and Midler re-teamed in a movie for grown-ups.


‘OUTRAGEOUS FORTUNE’ A Buena Vista release of a Touchstone Pictures presentation in association with Silver Screen Partners II of an Interscope Communications production. Producers Ted Field, Robert W. Cort. Director Arthur Hiller. Screenplay Leslie Dixon. Co-producers Peter V. Herald, Scott Kroopf, Martin Mickelson. Camera David M. Walsh. Production designer James D. Vance. Costumes Gloria Gresham. Music Alan Silvestri. 2nd unit director Michael Moore. Stunt coordinator Glenn P. Wilder. With Shelley Long, Bette Midler, Peter Coyote, Robert Prosky, John Schuck, George Carlin, Anthony Heald, Ji-Tu Cumbaka, Florence Stanley, Jerry Zaks.

Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.

MPAA rating: R (Under 17 requires an accompanying parent or adult guardian.)