Rated PG-13 - Running time: 1:33 - Released 11/25/98

Despite some large holes in its plot and some irritating things about Drew Barrymore's acting style, Home Fries, written by Vince Gilligan and directed by Dean Parisot, could end up as one of those underground cult favorites. Its bizarre characters and dark humor give it a kind of spice absent in most mainstream romances produced today. Like Fargo or A Fish Called Wanda, Home Fries is completely devoid of "normal" characters. Everyone in this film is screwy in some way or other — or rather is supposed to be. Barrymore can't turn off the cutesy charm long enough to make hers into one of them. Luckily, good performances by Catherine O'Hara and Luke Wilson keep the film afloat.

Two brothers, Dorian (Wilson) and Angus (Jake Busey) are small-town Texans who spend their weekends flying Army helicopters for the National Guard. When their mother Beatrice (O'Hara) suspects her husband Henry of fooling around, she convinces the boys to give him a little scare. So rather than jumping out from around a corner and yelling "boo," they follow their stepfather one night in their Apache gunship, chasing him into a field and opening up on him at close range with their 50-caliber machine guns. They're shooting blanks, of course — they don't want to harm the guy — but he croaks anyway, from a heart attack.

After Henry's gone, Beatrice feigns distress to everyone but her sons and begins a hunt for the woman who turned Henry's head. I'm not sure why she cares that much; she obviously didn't love the man. But she's determined to find the object of his affection, whom she sees repeatedly in her dreams (as a queen ant). And she asks Dorian and Angus to help with the search.

The boys know that the night they pulled off the caper, they heard interference in their radio headsets from the local Burger-Matic, which also uses radio transmitters to talk to drive-through customers. They decide Dorian should get a job there to check out the possibility of witnesses, and he soon finds the employee who heard them: the irresistably cute and charming Sally (Barrymore). But what he doesn't know is that Sally is the very woman Henry had been seeing and is in fact pregnant with his child. While Dorian is learning how to assemble cheeseburgers, he himself becomes attracted to the woman his mother wants to catch.

Home Fries is certainly not for everyone. The casual attitudes toward death and the strange family relationships may turn some people off. But the film's charm lies in its complete disregard for convention. Director Parisot has instructed Wilson and Busey to defy the script and play their intelligent characters as a couple of country boys. And it works in a strange sort of way, adding to the bizarre feel of the story. Barrymore proves once again that she's got the coy thing covered, but it would be nice if she could control the ever-present smirk long enough to make us believe something she's saying. She does have some nice moments, though, such as when she's trying to remember to pant correctly while in labor and under armed helicopter attack.

Gilligan has yet to distinguish himself as a writer, but Parisot's choices help to mask the flaws in the script. He deals with an offbeat script by employing an offbeat directing style. I like it. Some may not. ****

Copyright 1998 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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