Charles Durning is the director of the CIA. Longtime agent Dabney Coleman really wants his job. And Tom Hanks is an innocent man caught in the middle of their secret civil war.
That’s the set up for The Man With One Red Shoe, an almost completely laughless comedy with limited unethical thrills that celebrates its 30th Anniversary this year.
Knowing full well that Coleman is plotting a coup against him Durning lays a trap for his bitter rival in Morocco at the start of the film. But thanks to Coleman’s fellow agent Lori Singer, it completely backfires. Durning’s man gets nabbed for hiding a whole lot of cocaine in a Mercedes Singer personally delivers to him.
Back in Washington, the arrest causes big time political problems for Durning who is dragged unwillingly in front of a Senate committee to explain himself. Constantly clearing his throat and pretending to be completely unaware of the facts (that’s what they all say) he’s given a reprieve by the deeply annoyed Senate chairman George Martin (no, not The Beatles’ producer but a fine actor nonetheless). He has 2 days to get his story straight.
Rather than rest on his nervous laurels Durning summons an underling (Edward Herrmann) to his house to let him know that his country estate is filled with bugs planted by Coleman and his agents. (Herrmann initially thought he meant cockroaches.) He then lays yet another trap for his rival by instructing Herrmann to pick some mysterious person up at the airport at a specific time. Coleman takes the bait not realizing that Herrmann will be selecting a random stranger who just got off their flight.
That poor sap turns out to be an oblivious Hanks who, you guessed it, is wearing one red shoe. Why? Because his buddy (Jim Belushi) is a lame prankster who decided to temporarily steal the other one. (He returns it not that long afterward.) He also replaced the peanuts Hanks wanted to eat with fake ones which causes dental problems but we’ll come back to that.
Anyway, Herrmann is hoping Coleman will be completely convinced that the globetrotting Hanks (he’s a respected concert violinist with compositional ambitions) is a brilliant agent so his rogue band of spies will not only secretly track him right up until Durning’s second appearance in front of that Senate committee but hopefully also get caught committing a felonious act in the process. Regarding the former, Coleman doesn’t disappoint as he becomes increasingly convinced that Hanks is the real deal and not a harmless decoy. One wonders how he ever got a job at the agency.
Back to the business of those fake peanuts. Hanks books an appointment with his dentist which allows Singer to lead a team of agents to plant bugs and screw around with stuff in his apartment while he’s away. (Why the focus on the old chair and his clothes, though?) For some odd reason, Coleman thinks Hanks has microfiche film hidden in one of his teeth (he also thinks he’s sexually repressed because of his eyes and his handwritten signature), so a CIA dentist (curiously not Laurence Olivier) is sent in to extract not one but all of them, just to be safe.
As you would expect, things don’t go smoothly. By the time Hanks arrives to discover no receptionist he’s scared out of the lobby upon hearing a groggy patient groaning in semi-consciousness. Apparently no one told the CIA dentist what Hanks looks like since he takes all the teeth of a fellow agent he accidently incapacitates. Poor bastard.
Meanwhile, Singer and her team of bug planters are still at his apartment when he unexpectedly returns early. Hanks recognizes her from the airport (she purposefully bumped into him to grab some quick humint) and remains deeply smitten. (The feeling, unsurprisingly, is mutual.) Stalling for time by making up some bullshit cover story, it takes three tranquilizer darts to the ass to finally knock him out. (“Amazing. Usually one is sufficient,” marvels one of the old-timers.)
Once they leave and after he comes to, a confused Hanks enters the bathroom only to discover tomfoolery. Turning on the sink now turns on the shower, turning on the shower turns the toilet into a bidet and flushing the toilet turns on the sink. (Weren’t they just supposed to plant hidden microphones?) Watching Hanks try to wet his hands in the sink while constantly flushing is the only genuine laugh in the entire film. Why we never see him complain to the super about this in order to get it all fixed I have no idea. His lack of suspicion is ridiculous.
Meanwhile, Belushi’s sexy wife Carrie Fisher (the couple plays with Hanks in the same orchestra) can’t keep her hands off him. Despite Hanks being clearly not interested for moral reasons, she continually persists and, in what has to be a low point in her career, wants to role play as characters from Tarzan including Cheeta the chimpanzee. (She looks great in her leopard patterned underwear, though. I’ll give her that.)
In the meantime, an increasingly paranoid and dimwitted Coleman is losing patience. (Durning’s testimony is on the horizon.) He orders Singer to do the old honeytrap deal on Hanks who falls for it hook, line and sinker. (To be fair, she is hot and available. That is some backless dress, young lady.) While at his apartment, she discovers a new composition he’s been working on. (When he’s not writing, travelling or being the lead violinist in the orchestra, the Julliard-trained bachelor also teaches underprivileged kids how to play, including his own stuff.) As she’s about to take snaps of his sheet music, he quickly snatches it away. (He had been struggling to finish it but thanks to his attraction to her, it’s all done now.)
Singer gets needlessly suspicious. Coleman thinks it’s some kind of secret code. (Is he on crack?) When Hanks tries to slip in some of these notes during a live orchestra performance it completely pisses off David Ogden Stiers, his tempermental stickler of a conductor, who orders him to stop straying from what they’re playing. When the notes are put through a CIA supercomputer, only garbled, nonsensical words come up, like certain lyrics from Weird Al’s Smells Like Nirvana. That still doesn’t persuade Coleman to drop his pointless pursuit. (He persistently maintains that Hanks’ ordinary life is all too convenient to be real. He needs a vacation.)
By the time Singer invites Hanks over for a post-concert get-to-know-ya-better about an hour into the movie, she is mostly convinced that he’s not one of Durning’s loyalists. (Some twenty minutes later on a subway train, she asks him directly and he reassures her finally.) A now supremely stubborn Coleman refuses to believe the truth and orders her to keep the seduction going. Hanks ends up spending the night with her after premiering the forgettable song she inspired him to finish. When he leaves, it’s time to “liquidate” and not in the Jeff Schwarz sense, if you catch my meaning.
The Man With One Red Shoe is a 1985 remake of a 1972 French film entitled The Tall Blonde Man With One Black Shoe, the latter of which inspired a sequel two years later. I would like to see those earlier pictures. Here’s hoping they’re better than this hapless, unfocused retread.
Predictable and almost never funny, like a lot of inferior comedies, Red Shoe never finds its rhythm or purpose. The clearly illegal civil war between Durning & Coleman would’ve been a lot more fun if the film had figured out consistent ways to goof on their collectively paranoid narcissism. (I do like the idea of a seasoned spy being so skeptical of everyone they meet it utterly destroys their own common sense.) But despite Durning being clever enough to anticipate Coleman’s surveillance tactics and Coleman wisely avoiding getting caught up in the Morocco debacle early on, neither man ultimately realizes the real threat to their ambitions, something even I correctly figured out well in advance.
As for Hanks, without sharp writing, he’s lost at sea here. Ditto Belushi who tries a little too hard during one gag that involves him breaking the fourth wall. (He, too, finds himself getting more and more paranoid, especially after he discovers his wife is not so devoted to him.) Both deserve better as does Fisher who has nothing to do but literally throw herself at Hanks. (She did have an incredible body back then, though. Jesus.)
As weak as the film is, it does have some good character performances, some cool cinematography (there’s a great two-way mirror shot, for instance) and it’s always educational getting insight, albeit the dated variety, into the mass surveillance state, even in fictional form.
But thirty years after flopping painfully at the cinema, The Man With One Red Shoe feels like a lost opportunity, a missed chance to savagely satirize one of the most crooked, despicable secret organizations in the American government. God knows they deserve a cinematic comeuppance since they’ll never be held accountable in the real world.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, August 9, 2015