It’s not about meat, it’s about magic.
Backwoods clairvoyants, veal chops, and New Yawkers collide in a messy, trite, predictable, and unengaging romantic movie.
Marina (Demi Moore) is a quaint young lady living on an island off the coast of North Carolina. She lives with her blind grandmother, and the two share clairvoyant abilities. Marina dreams that soon she will meet the man of her dreams. (Okay, so that sentence didn’t turn out right, but then neither does the movie.) He washes ashore on her island in the form of Leo Lemke (George Dzundza, Basic Instinct), a butcher from New York City who only came to the island for a fishing trip. The two are wed immediately, and he takes her to live in the apartment above his Brooklyn butcher shop. Marina has an instant, bewitching effect on the neighborhood, dropping warm bits of enigmatic psychic advice to all who will listen. Robyn (Margaret Colin, Independence Day) proposes to Alex (Jeff Daniels, Speed), her longtime psychiatrist beau, throwing their tenuous relationship into upheaval. Grace (Frances McDormand, Fargo), a second-hand clothing store owner, is convinced that love is “on her front porch.” The prim Stella (Mary Steenburgen, Back to the Future Part III) becomes a siren blues singer in a local bar. The six people are destined to find their soul mates, and it won’t be to difficult to match them up.
I gauge these kind of movies by my wife’s reaction to them. She’s a woman, after all, and romantic movies are demographically tailored to meet the cinematic needs of the fairer sex. Melanie (my wife) has pretty good taste in romances, anyway. She introduced me to the writing and direction of Cameron Crowe with Say Anything, she loves old Cary Grant movies, and her favorite movie is Sliding Doors, a charming little faux-British romance that gets bonus points for prominently name-checking Monty Python. About halfway through The Butcher’s Wife, she declared, “This is stupid.” My reaction involved a few more colorful metaphors, which I’ll spare you here.
Brat Packer Demi Moore was a break-out star in 1991. The year before she starred in the phenomenally successful supernatural romance Ghost. Her follow-up choices squandered the opportunity: the lame comedy Nothing But Trouble (fourth billing behind Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, and John Candy), the poorly received thriller Mortal Thoughts (starring her then-husband Bruce Willis), and The Butcher’s Wife. After an excellent turn in the Aaron Sorkin-penned A Few Good Men, she traded fame for notoriety in two steamy roles: Indecent Proposal and Disclosure. Her career has been downhill from there, riding the coattails of previous roles and her high profile split with Bruce Willis. Of late, she has worked more behind the camera as a producer; we can thank her for producing Austin Powers and its sequels. But I digress; back to 1991 and The Butcher’s Wife.
Five minutes into The Butcher’s Wife, my thought was, “This has got to be a vanity project.” It feels like Demi Moore’s version of Eddie Murphy’s Vampire In Brooklyn, a movie where a megastar is attached, everyone lets them do their own thing, and no one wants to tell them, look, this isn’t working. We all know Demi Moore is a brunette, so why the blonde wig? We all know she doesn’t have a Southern accent, so why try to fake it? That last one is most egregious, because her gravely voice doesn’t lend itself to a Southern accent, nor can she do it well, slipping out of it into either her usual intonation or something that sounds like Mike Myers’ Scottish accent in So I Married An Axe Murderer. The vanity project tag is earned also by the inexperience of its writers and director. This is the sole credit for screenwriters Ezra Litwak and Marjorie Schwartz, names that positively scream pseudonym, and is the sole theatrical film of director Terry Hughes, an accomplished sitcom director — he directed over 100 episodes of The Golden Girls, not to mention Square Pegs and All-American Girl.
The cast does try hard, but the inept script does not give them much to work with. Particularly engaging is George Dzundza as Leo, the titular butcher. Not only does he look the part of a butcher, he brings authentic blue-collar mannerisms and reactions to the character. Jeff Daniels is…well, Jeff Daniels: low-key, earnest, but a little eccentric, not unlike the Tom Baxter character in Woody Allen’s Purple Rose of Cairo. We barely get to know Mary Steenburgen’s character, so it’s hard to feel anything when she’s “transformed” from a dowdy choir teacher into a bony lounge singer. Things just seem to happen in the movie with no rhyme or reason, like when Margaret Colin and Frances McDormand’s characters suddenly hook up, doubtless because the plot hadn’t introduced any male characters that would be likely matches.
About that inept script…check out these groaners:
“Leo, you’ll get a hernia!”
“Love’s made a young man of me.”
“If only I were black, I’d feel so much better!”
“It’s a lonely world without your split-apart. I’ve always had a hard time with mysteries, and I’ve never been good with trust, but Marina, I believe in you, and I love you.”
Speaking of groaners, this being a Paramount disc, you pretty much know what to expect. The Butcher’s Wife is presented anamorphically in its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Paramount usually does a decent job with their video transfers, but this one is rather poor. From the opening seconds of the movie, the screen is crawling with grain, not made any better by the low 5.55 Mbps average video bitrate. It abounds with dirt and specks on the print. Colors, though, are bright and vibrant, with accurate flesh tones and detailed blacks. Audio is presented in remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 as well as its theatrical 2.0 surround. I heard nary a peep from the rear speakers, and rarely anything outside of the center channel. This isn’t Die Hard, after all. The only extra is a lame theatrical trailer. It’s no wonder The Butcher’s Wife made 4% as much at the box office as Ghost.
Fans of Demi Moore — if there are any after The Scarlet Letter and G.I. Jane — may want to add this to their collection, but the other 6,185,348,023 of you in the world will want to give it a pass.