BetteBack October 25, 1982: Jinxed ~ A Ditzy Little Comedy

Syracuse Herald Journal
October 25, 1982

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It’s a ditzy little comedy that would be lost at another time of the year. But in’the dismal fall, “Jinied” comes as a welcome respite from the spate of horror films.

The Fayetteville Mall Cinema III film also provides a new look at the usually bold and brassy Bette Midler. While she’s far from perfect as a light comedienne, there’s plenty of evidence she can cope with the style. When all else fails, there is a winning combination of frailty and survivor that is wholly endearing.

Miss Midler is cast as a singer who might rise from lounge act to main room, if only she could, dump the grifter who has been her lover for many years. Each time she embarks on a promising job, he packs her off to another gambling resort to follow his “pigeon/’ a blackjack dealer against whom he cannot lose. Her mission: spy on the dealer.

The singer’s Harold is no bargain, he’s cruel, crass, demanding. Once she tried to leave him, but he brought her back. She is, then, a loser like the dealer. So it’s no surprise that they are drawn to one another, although it’s difficult to believe the gambler rates a marker for murder.

Yet that’s what Bonita plans and talks the dealer into a partnership, pointing out that if he wants to remain in his beloved profession, he must get rid of Harold or the player will follow him until he runs out of resorts.

Crossed-wires are the impetus for the latter half of the movie. Dealer Willie beats his jinx, but can’t get word to Bonita before Harold returns home. He lies to the singer about winning, but commits suicide.

That puts a crimp into the couple’s plans since his insurance policy, signed over to Bonita, won’t pay off unless it’s natural or accidental death.

From this point on, the comedy is consistently amusing, making the best use of Miss Midler’s comedic abilities. But it is such a slender story that to reveal it would be unfair to a potential moviegoer.

The choice of Don Siegel for direction strikes this reviewer as peculiar since his expertise has never been in the line of humor. It shows, too, in the first half hour when he is unable to establish a pace and has trouble getting his characters to behave as if they are in a comedy.

The movie looks as if he just trained the cameras on the players and let them go. After, the story picks up in action, he seems to come back to life, since that is one of his specialities.

That leaves the relative novice, Miss Midler, at a loss in the first part, and she is further handicapped because Ken Wahl, the latest John Travolta copy, is hapless at comedy — worse than in action drama. At least Travolta would have brought a semblance of innocent fun to the dealer. Wahl is just sullen.

The singing star fares better in her scenes with Rip Torn. As Harold, alive and dead, Torn delivers one of his better performances. He plays his usual nasty role, but there is also great humor and even one poignant moment or two.

Bert Blessing, who wrote the story, and David Newman sprinkle a few amusng lines through the visual fun. A couple are Miss Midler’s as she variously describes Harold’s corpse as “looking like a hard-boiled egg“or”afrenchfry.”

“Jinxed” scarcely will shore up Miss Midler’s superstar status. It does give her added possibilities as an actress. And, were her character not to work, the film would .drop dead. In other hands, it could have.

So, after all, what’s a superstar for if not to make certain his or her movie works?

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