Death Becomes Her casts Bruce Willis as the helpless rope in a tug-of-war

Death Becomes Her casts Bruce Willis as the helpless rope in a tug-of-war

Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: A Good Day To Die Hard has us thinking about less-heralded Bruce Willis movies.

Death Becomes Her (1992)
Practically every tough action-movie hero reaches a point where he decides it’d be fun (and profitable) to play with his image. Some do comedies. Some wind up in a tutu, or playing second fiddle to a baby or an animal, or trying to manage a kindergarten class. Bruce Willis did it by playing an ineffectual milquetoast being battered about by much stronger women in Robert Zemeckis’ 1992 goofy black comedy, Death Becomes Her. (He mixed it up a few years previous by voicing a comedic infant in Look Who’s Talking and the sequel, but Death Becomes Her puts him squarely onscreen, half-hidden behind a pair of glasses, a receding hairline, a silly mustache, a meek whine, and a perpetually badgered, emasculated expression.) The plot kicks off when Meryl Streep steals the hapless Willis away from fiancée Goldie Hawn, seemingly more because Streep is worried about aging and wants her own pet plastic surgeon—and wants to one-up Hawn for the umpteenth time—than because she has feelings for him. This sets off a rivalry between the two women that leads to endless special-effects whizcrackery, as they both drink magical immortality potions that leave them young and beautiful, at least until they start smashing each other’s faces in with shovels.

Zemeckis let his interest in special effects eclipse his interest in characters many years ago, and Death Becomes Her finds him on the cusp: As a high-concept comedy full of shrill caricatures, it lets the Oscar-winning visual effects drive the minimal plot. But it does have some Beetlejuice-esque bizarre humor, and plenty of fun mocking its high-profile stars. Hawn gets grotesque in a fat suit, cramming frosting from a tub into her face as she mourns losing Willis. Streep, already a two-time Oscar-winner, gets to do physical comedy and walk around with her head smashed so far into her torso, she looks like she’s wearing a turtleneck made out of her own chest. And Willis gets to play meek, impotent, and frustrated, though in the end, he shows more spine than any of the principal players. Even as a wuss, he’s a bit of a hero.

Availability: On DVD, but not Blu-ray or streaming, though many online services offer digital rentals or purchase.

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