Larry Donner is an author and writing professor who tutors people that want to write books. Larry's life has become a misery when his ex-wife Margaret has published a book he wrote under her name and has gotten rich over it. Owen Lift, one of Larry's students, offers Larry to kill Margaret, and in return Owen, wants Larry to kill his horrible mother. Larry thinks it's a joke, until he learns Owen killed his ex-wife. And Larry has now become the prime suspect. Written by
When Owen sits on the porch (with the door open), his mother sits in her chair in the living room, and Larry lies down on the rug between them. Momma sees Larry on TV and yells "There's a murderer in the house!" at which point the camera turns back to Owen, with Larry notably absent from his place on the rug. The camera then returns to Momma calling the police at which point another cut is made to Larry awakening, lying on the carpet again in his original spot. See more »
Black comedy isn't always an easy sell. Every now and then you get a black comedy that is hugely successful, like Fargo, for example. But usually they don't often find big audiences. People seem to either set their minds for intellectual comedy, or for serious mayhem. There doesn't seem to be a big market for a good mixture of both. Throw Momma From the Train was a fairly decent hit, yet few people seem to remember much about it in this day and age. Danny DeVito just about hit this one all the way out of the park back in 1987.
DeVito plays an odd mamma's boy named Owen looking to rid himself of his outrageously overbearing and unpleasant mother whom he still lives with. The mother is played by Anne Ramsey, who passed away shortly after this was released, and she is quite a caricature. She is loud, ugly, rude, and overbearing. Though Owen hardly seems like he could take care of himself, he wants desperately to have his mother offed. He fantasizes about it in some truly weird scenes, but he clearly doesn't have the guts to actually do it himself. That's where Billy Crystal comes in. Crystal plays Larry Donner, Owen's creative writing teacher at a nearby community college. Larry is a paranoid would-be intellectual novelist who claims his ex-wife stole his novel and made millions off it. He is currently trying to write a new one, but cannot even come up with a decent first sentence. "The night was...." Owen hears Larry wish his ex-wife were dead during an outburst at the school cafeteria. And borrowing the idea from Strangers on a Train, Owen decides to travel to Hawai'i and murder Larry's ex-wife. Once it appears he has done so, he expects Larry to return the favor and kill his mother. The resulting action is often quite funny, and even poignant. It's certainly never dull and often full of surprises.
The acting is exceptional, even if Ramsey was a bit over the top. Crystal is as good as he can be, and DeVito has always been undervalued as a performer. The film relies on quite a bit of physical comedy which usually works, often painfully so. The film makes use of some truly innovative editing techniques in some scenes, and the off-beat tone is truly refreshing. I have often been critical of the late 1980s as being a time of artistic malaise and down right lazy film-making. Throw Momma From the Train takes chances. Both in how its characters are drawn as well as its general plot. How many comedies revolve around a son having his mother murdered? The film isn't too long, and it is chock full of laughs. Writers are apt to find it more interesting than the general public, but it can still be enjoyed by just about anyone. 9 of 10 stars.
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