80s Revisited: Twins

Twins (1988)
Directed by Ivan Reitman; written by William Davies & William Osborne and Timothy Harris & Herschel Weingrod; produced by Ivan Reitman

Remember how big a hit this flick was? It had a huge marketing campaign just based on the popularity of the two actors and the cutesiness of the concept; even at 12 this thing seemed like one big in-joke to me, yet at 12 I also thought it was a cute, funny movie. I remember my dad loved it. I don't think I've actually seen it since I was 12, but I must have seen it a few times, because I was surprised how much of it I remembered.

You know the concept: there's a genetic experiment to create this amazing paragon of humanity, but the leftover genetic material creates a fraternal twin, and ha ha, it's Danny DeVito and he's short. (So is Arnold Schwarzenegger, but we won't get into that.) I had honestly always assumed this whole thing was written as a vehicle specifically for Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito, but apparently they were looking to work together and it was either this or Suburban Commando, which just makes me picture a weird alternate universe where Twins was made starring Hulk Hogan and Christopher Lloyd (which apparently it nearly was). I can't imagine that movie being a hit at all, can you? Even with Ivan Reitman directing it and the same light approach.

This is one of those movies that sort of typifies the feel-good approach to 80s comedies. It's not necessarily a family movie (not with a lot of the plot elements at play here), but it's not a movie that a family couldn't go see and enjoy. I wonder if the same could ever be true now. Can there still be light, family-friendly comedies that involve corporate espionage and a killer who murders anyone who sees his face? It seems like that kind of an element would be so dark now that it wouldn't even end up in a comedy about family. They'd have to win a baseball game to save an orphanage or something, instead.

And what about that corporate espionage plot? This is a movie about one twin's search for his brother, and their search together for their mother, and Arnold falling in love for the first time. Does it really need to be padded out with a corporate espionage/hired killer subplot? Probably not anymore than Three Men and a Baby needed to be padded out with the drug dealer plot. What the hell, 80s? And we also didn't need, I think, the bit about how DeVito and Arnold can find each other with, I guess, their magical twin powers or whatever.

This is a surprisingly not-very-good movie. It's very much of its time, and the core conceit is amusing for a minute and then not very funny thereafter. A lot of it skates by on the charm of the leads; Arnold is actually pretty good in this. I tend to forget why Arnold was ever as popular as he was, but back in this time period, he was charming enough onscreen and better at hiding the creepy bits of his personality in public; you wanted to like the guy, no matter how many Red Heats and Raw Deals he made. He's good here at making you believe he could ever be a guy who is naively afraid of girls instead of openly groping them. And Danny DeVito really carries this whole flick. Arnold is a bit more like a plot device, but Danny DeVito here gives a funnier, more layered performance as a three-dimensional person than this movie probably deserves. You end up caring about what happens to him, which is the one thing this fluffy movie precisely pulls off.

Of course, it also colors my perception that I just don't like Ivan Reitman. That guy got lucky with Ghostbusters and Stripes and then turned into a super-hack. And while this may not be hackery on the level of Dave or Six Days, Seven Nights, it is commercially designed to be a product. And I guess it worked. But seeing it again now, I was pleased by the surprising depth of Danny DeVito's performance--this guy never gets the credit he deserves for his acting. But don't otherwise feel like you would miss out on anything not having seen it. Unless you want a superb example of the weightlessness of 1980s comedy.