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The Man With One Red Shoe
(1985)

Director: Stan Dragoti  
Cast:
Tom Hanks, Dabney Coleman, Lori Singer


Though this web site is about movies - unknown movies, to be specific - I hope that you don't think that my one and only interest is unknown movies. Like you, there are a number of things in this life of ours that I pursue because they interest me. One thing I like to do is to step outside of my apartment building and take a walk around my city. Another thing that I enjoy doing is picking up a book or a magazine and treating myself to a good read. Though if you were to examine those and other leisure time habits that I have, you will see a pattern after some time. There are some routes around my city that I walk around again and again. And there are some books and magazines that while I have already read before, I enjoy picking up and reading once again. I am mentioning these repeated so you can understand and relate to what I am about to say about movies - namely that there are things about movies that I like seeing over and over again. There are some certain basic plots that I don't get tired of. I like movies about tough cops, for instance. When I see for the thousandth time a cop turning in his gun and badge to his superior, I don't say, "Not again!" - instead, I am tickled, knowing the cop will soon kick some major ass. But I will admit that there are some certain movie formulas that I am getting tired of seeing. I am getting tired of movies that team up a pair of mismatched individuals (a.k.a. "buddy" films), for one thing. It helps if the tough cop formula is also injected into this retelling, but otherwise I have seen this formula so many times that new screenwriters who try this formula don't seem to have any idea on how to freshen the formula up.

Another cinematic formula that I am tired of seeing is the "rival businesses" formula, usually involving some underdogs running some sort of business that is threatened by a more powerful business that's run by cruel and snotty individuals. In the past I have reviewed at least two examples of this formula (Zoo Radio and Odd Jobs), and hopefully in those two reviews I revealed my tiredness of this old-as-the-hills formula. But there is one certain cinematic formula that displeases me much more than the combined loathing I have for rival business and buddy films. That formula is the one that concerns mistaken identities. Several years ago, when I reviewed the so-called comedy Bullseye!, I mentioned some reasons why this formula bothers me each and every time I see it. Mostly I mentioned reasons concerning the formula variation of two people looking exactly the same. A look-alike impostor in real life might fool people for a short time, but for a long time? Forget it! It relies on the wobbly cinematic crutch that people are too stupid to notice the many small but glaring differences that would come with the charade. But there is another kind of mistaken identity movie that bothers me just as much as the look-alike variation. That variation is when there isn't another look-alike character, but an innocent person is mistaken to be a completely different kind of person than they really are. One example of this formula is with the 1997 Bill Murray movie The Man Who Knew Too Little. In that movie, Murray plays a kind of dimwit who is repeatedly mistaken for a super spy by various characters scene after scene. Movies that follow this kind of mistaken identity plot not only have to make the observing characters too stupid to see the obvious truth, but they are essentially playing the same tired joke over and over and over again until the movie is padded out to feature-film length.

I suppose it is possible that screenwriters could figure out a fresh spin on this whole mistaken identity idea, but as it is, the situation is like with "buddy" films - screenwriters nowadays seem clueless as to how to enliven these two particular genres. Anyway, you have probably guessed The Man With One Red Shoethat the movie I am reviewing here - The Man With One Red Shoe - is a comedy that is hinged around the idea of mistaken identity. And you are probably confused as to why I am reviewing it. Well, although I have reviewed in the past a mistaken identity movie about look-alikes, I wanted the chance again to vent about the similar premise of people mistaken to be different people than they really are. Also, this movie would possibly give me the chance to vent about its star Tom Hanks, an actor that for some reason has always rubbed me the wrong way. Hanks plays Richard Drew, a violinist who gets caught up in the rivalry between two CIA bigwigs in Washington D.C., Ross (Charles Durning, An Enemy Of The People) and Cooper (Coleman, Bite The Bullet). Cooper has his eye on the agency's leadership position that is currently held by Ross, and decides to play dirty in order to get it. He decides to make it appear that Ross is responsible for a bungled operation that's just happened overseas. But Ross knows Cooper's scheme, so knowing that Cooper has planted bugs in his home, he stages a conversation at home with loyal agent Brown (Edward Hermann, Gilmore Girls). Cooper hears Ross tell Brown that someone is coming to Washington D.C. that will clear his name to the investigating Senate, and to pick up this individual at the airport. Unknown to Cooper, Ross tells Brown to pick someone random at the airport, and at the airport Brown picks the just arriving Richard after seeing Richard's eye-catching mismatched shoes due to an apparent prank (I think) played by his friend Morris (Jim Belushi, Real Men). Brown then makes a gesture to make it appear the innocent Richard is the contact, which then gets Cooper and his agents to shadow Richard everywhere and start a big investigation on this mysterious person. Cooper also gets Maddy (Singer, Footloose), one of his female agents, to meet and pretend to be attracted to Richard so she can spend time with him and aid in Cooper to try to make sense of who this mysterious spy is and what he might be scheming.

Although the plot of The Man With One Red Shoe may use the tired plot device of mistaken identity, it could still have worked. I say that because this movie is a remake of a 1972 French movie (Le Grand Blond Avec Une Chaussure Noire) that was apparently popular enough to warrant a sequel two years later. But like most American remakes of foreign films, this one falls flat. It doesn't take long in watching this remake to pinpoint the first of one of its big problems, and that happens to be that no character in the movie engages us well enough to make us sympathetic towards them. Obviously, we are not on the side of Cooper and his agents, because they are both trying to discredit Ross and end up complicating Richard's life. But Ross doesn't seem to care that his scheming to screw up Cooper's dirty dealings is putting an innocent man in jeopardy. Ross' loyal agent Brown does start to show concern as the charade goes on, but he ends up doing some dirty dealings himself that evaporate our sympathies to him. While the character of Maddy, as expected, falls in love with Richard as she tries to get close to him, her change of heart doesn't erase the fact that she was earlier fooling him for personal gain. It also doesn't help that her falling in love happens abruptly instead of slowly building. You might think that you might have some feelings for Richard, the innocent caught in this extremely sticky situation. But it's revealed that he has had an affair with Paula (Carrie Fisher, Star Wars), who happens to be the wife of his best friend Morris. Morris, incidentally, is a pretty dim-witted fellow, and his stupidity isn't exactly very endearing. Also, he is shown to be a very possessive man when it comes to his wife, and when he comes across evidence that his wife and his best friend are more than just friends, he grabs a gun and heads to Richard's apartment so he can shoot Richard.

The stupid and unsympathetic characters in The Man With One Red Shoe are a real big problem, but there's one greater problem the movie has that by itself sinks the ship. And that problem is that the movie simply isn't that funny. In fact, I only (mildly) chuckled at one of the many attempts at humor that are made. Looking back at the notes I made while watching the movie, I pinpointed two main ways that the humor of the movie is botched. The first of these has to do with humor that simply breaks credibility. For example, Cooper's agents search Richard's apartment while he is out, and when Richard returns home and turns on his bathroom sink's faucet, the shower next to the sink starts working. I could accept this in a Bugs Bunny cartoon, where things are clearly far from reality. I could even accept this in live action with something like Laurel & Hardy, which maintain a slapstick tone from beginning to end. But the general tone of this movie is not slapstick and is more serious, so such goofiness seems out of place. The second way the humor is botched in this movie is with a seemingly lazy attitude. An example of this is when Richard has to go to the dentist. Cooper's agents think he's going to pass information to another agent there, so they get to the dentist's office ahead of him. Once they are there, how do they take over the office? Ho ho, by spraying knock out formula in the face of the receptionist! Is that the best they could think of? A more imaginative screenwriter would have had the agents revealing themselves to the receptionist and the dentist, threatening them with jail unless they cooperate with the agents and get the information from the soon arriving Richard. This could have altered the behavior of the receptionist and the dentist towards Richard, and could have been very funny. But here, as with many of the other attempts at humor, the movie shows a lack of zany spirit and insight to how funny ordinary people can be in extraordinary situations.

What's really surprising is that the movie was written by Robert Klane, who earlier in his career wrote hilarious movies like Where's Poppa? and Fire Sale. Somewhere along the way he lost his spark, which explains movies like Folks! and Walk Like A Man. While Klane certainly has to shoulder a lot of the responsibility for the failure of The Man With One Red Shoe - because of its unlikable characters and dead-on-arrival humor - not everything is to blame because of him. There are clear signs that the story was tampered with by various individuals between the time the finished script was handed in and when the movie was released. The whole red shoe thing is one glaring question, being that it is never really properly explained why Richard was wearing mismatched shoes when he arrived at the airport. Also, Morris makes a reference to "senators" at one point, which gets the overhearing Cooper think Morris is referring to the investigating Senate. He's not, but what exactly Morris was referring to is never explained. There are a lot more puzzling things in the story (like Maddy abruptly falling in love with Richard), but I won't get into them more, except to repeat my belief that a lot of coherence was cut out. Two film editors are credited, which suggests the movie may have had some problems in its post-production phase. However, a longer cut would likely have aggravated another problem the movie has. Director Stan Dragoti (who earlier did Love At First Bite) puts no energy in his movie. Scene after scene unfolds with no feeling of the situation building in craziness. There is more often than not a matter-of-fact feeling, a tone of seeming disinterest. Sitting in stony silence (except for that one aforementioned mild chuckle), I couldn't help but think: If the director has seemingly no interest in this situation, why should we in the audience be expected to have any?

(Posted December 6, 2015)


UPDATE: Reader Jason Borlinghaus wrote in about the "senators" question I had, explaining that the characters of Morris and Richard in the movie were on a softball team called The Senators. Thank you for that explanation, Jason!

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See also: Bullseye!, Making The Grade, Real Men

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