(US); 2000; Rated PG-13; 95 Minutes
Danny DeVito: Police Chief Wyatt Rash
Bette Midler: Mona Dearly
Neve Campbell: Ellen Rash
Jamie Lee Curtis: Rona Cale, The Waitress
Casey Affleck: Bobby Calzone
William Fichtner: Phil Dearly
Produced by Al Corley, Danny DeVito, Eugene Musso,
Bart Rosenblatt, Michael Shamberg, Stacey Sher and Jonathan
Weisgal; Directed by Nick Gomez; Screenwritten
by Peter Steinfeld
by DAVID KEYES
early moments of “Drowning Mona” assemble the plot as a
whodunit, with the residents of Verplanek, New York, hearing
that their most hated resident, Mona Dearly, has plunged
her car off of a cliff and into the water, and that the
unfortunate accident may have been instigated by one of
the many people who knew her. Then it gradually finds itself
venturing into new territory, at first trying to be a quirky
character study and then later approaching the tone of a
farce. It’s easy to see something amusing emerge from this
combination: a murder mystery with complex characters and
eccentric intentions, after all, holds great potential simply
from description. But any potential one might have expected
from this flick is dashed even before there is a chance
to build up the hope. “Drowning Mona” is a spiritless, flat
comedy that tries to accomplish more than it can handle;
it scrambles over all sorts of characters and plot twists,
but never finds the time, or necessity, to probe things
deeper and find stability.
know something’s rotten in Denmark to begin with when Bette
Midler is killed off before the opening credits are finished.
She plays the title character Mona, who has trouble on a
curve when driving and plunges her car off a cliff and deep
into the sea. When the wreckage is retrieved, it is discovered
that someone has tampered with her brake lines. The town’s
sheriff, played by Danny DeVito, opens up an investigation
where virtually every person in town is a suspect. That’s
to be expected, though, since everyone in town hated the
sight of Mona to begin with.
odd assortment of character suspects has a substantial ensemble
cast attached. Top billing goes to DeVito as Police Chief
Wyatt Rash, who opens the case for murder and seems like
one of the only mentally stable personas of the entire town.
Neve Campbell plays Rash’s daughter, Ellen, who is engaged
to the young entrepreneur in town Bobby (Casey Affleck).
Then there’s Rona the waitress (more specific, the town
slut, played by Jamie Lee Curtis) who has been having affairs
with both Mona’s husband Phil (William Fichtner) and son
Jeff (Marcus Thomas) for quite some time. The significance
they have in the underlying premise varies, but all of them
(and then some) are prime suspects in the apparently-provoked
murder of Mona Dearly.
of the assemblage of plot techniques: does it matter that
they have little similarity to one another in terms of structure?
Not really. If there is enough good intention, any match
of ideas can be shaped accordingly. But “Drowning Mona”
cannot even get that part correct; the entire script grows
trite and obvious with one idea, then shifts gears to another
without ever establishing a shape. When the characters are
being entirely investigated, for instance, the screenplay
forgets the importance of the mystery and slacks off in
finding the definite answer as to who induced Mona’s tragic
death. And because the players are so underwritten, the
audience is never able to tap into their frequency; they
are distanced by an endless display of stupidity and shallowness.
What’s worse, none of it is ever funny.
though the title character buys the farm long before the
“whodunit” element kicks in, the few flashbacks she’s featured
in reveal someone whom we would have liked to gotten to
know better. Bette Midler is more than a capable actress:
she’s a screen gem. And she maintains Mona with a shrewd
sense of awareness and charm, ever so often pouncing on
her costars with an attitude the size of Texas. Throughout
the first act, I realized that Mona’s death was not a blessing
for those who live in her town; it was a blessing for herself.
Otherwise she would have been forced to be one of the only
intelligent people in a town filled with complete idiots.
who killed Mona? Who hated her enough to commit such a heinous
crime? If only the story had probed these questions, and
others, a little deeper. There simply isn’t enough time
permitted for such things to happen, however; so many characters
and plot twists are incorporated into the script that managing
them takes all the time and effort away from the details.
We want to know the answers to the mystery. We really do.
Even though the film has too many problems to save its own
hide, it intrigues us to know who murdered Mona, and why
they had the gumption to do so. But by the end, when the
plot finally self-destructs, even the answers leave us disheartened.
David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org.
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