Two cold-weather comedies -- and trailing the Pink Panther
Best Friends and Tootsie are running neck and neck for the title of best cold-weather comedy. Both suffer from common problems - obvious jokes, needless vulgarity, and hints of pretension around the edges. Yet these are spunky pictures with lots of energy and enough intelligence to catch the imagination as well as the eye.
Of the two, ''Best Friends'' is by far the most engaging. Burt Reynolds and Goldie Hawn aren't exactly the new Tracy and Hepburn, true. But they have plenty of that old standby, ''chemistry,'' and their patented brand of laid-back humor meshes neatly.
I also liked the film's tidy three-act structure. In a sort of prologue, Richard proposes to Paula because he believes in their love and wants a commitment more solid than ''they dated happily ever after.'' In the first act, they visit her parents in the snowy reaches of Buffalo, where they encounter personalities as frosty as the landscape. The second act finds them in the airless confines of his family's apartment, with mom ''recording her life,'' in endless snapshots and dad chattering about access roads. Act 3 takes them back home to Los Angeles, where they pass through an emotional crisis that leaves them better friends - and marriage partners - than ever.
The resolution is slippery and a bit contrived, and the generally snappy dialogue is diluted with occasional cheap humor based on sexual innuendo and four-letterisms. Still, the movie has miles of heart, and its stand for the old-fashioned virtues of marriage is refreshing, if sentimental. Other pleasures include superb character turns by such all-out pros as Jessica Tandy and Keenan Wynn, and deftly tasteful direction by veteran filmmaker Norman Jewison. Special credit goes to Ron Silver, whose concise portrait of a Hollywood wheeler-dealer is a masterpiece of its kind. Hoffman film
Some critics are using the word ''classic'' when they talk about ''Tootsie,'' which shows how starved the reviewing clan is for first-rate fare. In fact, ''Tootsie'' is a lively farce with quite a few laughs - nothing more, nothing less. It might have reached classic dimensions if it explored the social and sexual ambiguities that spring from its subject matter instead of using them as mere springboards for standard movie routines. But the filmmakers have chosen to stay mostly on the surface of their story - providing plenty of diversion, a few thought-provoking twists, and just a touch of the insight that might of raised the package to the level of high comedy.
In a plot similar to the recent ''Victor/Victoria,'' an out-of-work actor (Dustin Hoffman) finds the proverbial fame and fortune by masquerading as a member of the opposite sex and becoming the most popular character on a TV soap opera. Predictably, this odd career secret complicates both his personal and professional lives, leading to awkward situations and unexpected outcomes. Some are clever and imaginative, while others carry the usual stamp of this genre, which includes such well-remembered items as ''Some Like It Hot'' and ''Sylvia Scarlett,'' not to mention years of Milton Berle in the so-called golden age of television.
Both humor and taste lapse from time to time. Yet the sincerity of Hoffman's performance helps carry the day - he plays his Tootsie as a mature and complex personality, avoiding facile gender stereotypes - and he gets able support from such capable cohorts as Terry Garr and Jessica Lang. Charles Durning stands out as a smitten admirer of the enigmatic Tootsie, and Bill Murray shows surprising depth as the hero's pal. The director - Sydney Pollack, not known as a comic filmmaker - also gives a smooth portrayal of Tootsie's show-biz agent alternately abused, bemused, and aghast. Panther trail
Also bidding for success this season is yet another retread of the ''Pink Panther'' formula, carried gamely on despite the passing of Peter Sellers, who was the star of all but one entry in this wildly successful series. Trail of the Pink Panther is a stew of scenes that were shot for earlier films but wound up on the cutting-room floor, along with new footage and actual clips from ''A Shot in the Dark,'' an original ''Pink Panther,'' and others. It's all glued together by a gnarled plotline about international intrigue. And for good measure, there's a reporter investigating the career of hero Inspector Clouseau, which gives a handy excuse for disconnected flashbacks.
If you always enjoyed the Pink Panther capers, as I have, this is a good-natured excursion into territory as friendly as it is familiar. But don't look for coherency; even the filmmakers gave up on that after a while, closing the picture without bothering to end the story, much less resolve it.
Next on the agenda is a new direction in Pink Panther history, a comedy called ''Curse of the Pink Panther'' that will reportedly star a new actor in the Clouseau role. Providing continuity will be director Blake Edwards, inventor and promulgator of the series, and a clear believer in the quality that always has been Clouseau's saving grace: an abiding faith that, whatever happens, the 11th commandment must always be ''Thou shalt not give up.''