Drowning Mona stays afloat

Try to ignore the advertising for Drowning Mona; the television commercials and print ads for the film fail to emphasize anything positive about it. At first glance, Drowning Mona looks like a mainstream comedy relying primarily on star power. In truth, it’s a quirky black comedy with a solid script and decent acting.

Set in the town of Verplanck, New York, the town’s absurdities are made clear from the start. For example, everyone in town drives a Yugo with a vanity plate (it’s explained early on). It is the presence of such oddities that makes the film enjoyable.

When town bitch Mona Dearly (a surprisingly evil Bette Midler) drives off a cliff into the Hudson River, everyone in Verplanck is a suspect, but no one, save Police Chief Wyatt Rash (Danny DeVito), is too concerned. As Rash conducts his investigation, we learn why Dearly and her family were so despised in the community.

DeVito, even though he doesn’t get the film’s juiciest scenes, is notable for his portrayal of the town’s least eccentric citizen. Through his investigation, Rash ties the film together and brings out the well-developed personalities of the other characters.

Casey Affleck plays a decent Bobby Calzone, Rash’s future son-in-law and Dearly’s son’s business partner. Bobby has the best reasons to off the entire Dearly family, but he appears too meek and not quite crazy enough to be a suspect, which is exactly what the script requires from him.

Other community members include white-trash waitress Rona Mace (Carrie fisher), Bobby’s nervous fianceè Ellen Rash (Neve Campbell) and pornographic undertaker Cubby (Will Ferrell). Ferrell’s portrayal of Cubby could be thought of as a weak link in the film, but on the other hand, Ferrell might have the unreadable character down perfectly.

The quirks and performances make the movie watchable, but you might solve the case before Chief Rash does, which will make the last 20 minutes a little tough to sit through.

The ending isn’t altogether unsatisfying, however, so once you’ve paid for the ticket, you might as well sit through the rest of the movie.

If you’re still not convinced, imagine a slightly more mainstream-oriented Coen Brothers film, and let Bette Midler put Beaches aside for a while.

Drowning Mona opens Mar. 4.

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