Watch This offers movie recommendations inspired by new releases, premieres, current events, or occasionally just our own inscrutable whims. This week: With Zack Snyder’s Army Of The Dead bringing zombies to the Vegas strip, we’re bringing Vegas to Watch This.
Writer and occasional director Andrew Bergman worked on some of the late 20th century’s most offbeat and hilarious comedies, including Blazing Saddles, Fletch, and Soapdish. Unfortunately, his ascent was stalled by a disaster: the infamous Demi Moore exotic-dancer flop Striptease, which he both wrote and directed and from which his career never recovered. But before ending his strange and all too brief run in Hollywood, Bergman offered one of his most charming variations on a pet theme: an innocent protagonist lured into a madcap scheme, frequently involving travel—a premise he tackled, for example, in 1979’s The In-Laws and 1990’s The Freshman. The effect was often akin to a comic spin on Hitchcock or a modern makeover of a 1930s screwball comedy.
In Honeymoon In Vegas, Nicolas Cage stars as commitmentphobe Jack Singer, haunted by the dying words of his mother (Anne Bancroft, in a too-brief cameo), who demanded he never marry. Jack’s job as a low-rent private eye who’s primarily hired to spy on cheating spouses doesn’t help matters. But then he meets Betsy (Sarah Jessica Parker), a beautiful, brainy schoolteacher who puts his fear of marriage to the test. Jetting her off to Vegas to get hitched, Jack ends up competing for Betsy’s affections against professional gambler Tommy Korman (James Caan), who coerces Jack into a poker game that the latter loses badly. To collect on Jack’s debts, Korman finagles a weekend with Betsy, whisking her off to Hawaii as our hero races after them to win her back. It’s almost a romantic-comedy version of the following year’s Indecent Proposal.
The screwball nature of Bergman’s plot allows Cage to show off his high-wire comic chops, with a performance that rivals his work in Raising Arizona and Moonstruck. (Given how funny he is here, it really is a shame the star seems to have taken a permanent detour into action movies.) Cage shifts into over-the-top frustrated mode, complete with Yosemite Sam delivery, as Jack’s cartoonishly circuitous route (orchestrated by Tommy’s minions) keeps him just a few steps behind his beloved. He tells off tortoise-like airport customer Ben Stein for holding up the ticket line to thunderous applause: “What, I’ll be arrested? Put in airport jail?” Later, the delightful Pat Morita, as philosophical cab driver Mahi Mahi, takes Jack on a wild goose chase to visit the eccentric Chief Orman (Peter Boyle)—a character modeled on Marlon Brando, who Bergman had directed in The Freshman. When Mahi tries to convince Jack that Orman has a lot of influence on the island, Jack responds with perfect comic cadence, “Influence? He lives in a shack!” With every line reading, Cage appears to be in a race to top himself in hysterics, and improbably keeps doing so.
Somehow Parker and Caan are able to sell Tommy as a romantic threat, despite the age difference. In her first rom-com lead, Parker ably spars with both Jack’s neuroses and Tommy’s devotion; she has credible chemistry with both. The shimmering Vegas even rivals the Hawaii seaside as a perfect romantic landscape, the place where dreams can broach reality. And the Elvis references keep coming (as do his love songs on the soundtrack), aided by a King impersonator convention, a slew of blink-and-you’ll-miss-them tributes (including a young Bruno Mars as a perfectly credible baby Elvis), and a skydiving final stunt that sends Elvis fandom airborne. Bergman’s career ended too soon; Honeymoon In Vegas, which finds some big heart under the flash of the strip, should have bought him at least one second chance.