, which was released 35 years ago today, on April 18, 1986.
really loved it, giving the film "two great big thumbs up" on their TV program,
. Thanks to
, we can watch the entire episode. Here's a transcript, followed by the video:
Ebert: Our next movie is named Wise Guys, and this one's a real treasure. A great comedy about the Mafia that stars Joe Piscopo and Danny DeVito as a couple of very low-level New Jersey foot soldiers for the Mob. One day, they're given ten-thousand dollars of the Godfather's money to bet on a horse, and they bet on the wrong horse, because they think, "He doesn't know what horse is gonna win!" But you know what? He did know what horse was gonna win, and so they owe him two-hundred and fifty-thousand dollars, and they don't have a dime. So the Don decides their punishment, which is, he secretly assigns each one of them to kill the other one. Here's the scene earlier in the movie, one morning in the Mob-controlled restaurant where the Mafia boss is handing out the day's assignments:
Ebert: [laughs at the clip just shown] That giant guy that you saw there with the horrible red or maroon sport coat is the enforcer for the Mob, and later on, the boss puts him on the case of these two guys after they've stolen his two-hundred and fifty-thousand dollars. So they are desperate. They know there's no place to turn. And so DeVito gets on the phone and pretends to be talking to his uncle in Atlantic City. An uncle who is a powerful mobster, who, if he were alive, might be able to save their lives.
[Scene plays, with DeVito pretending to talk to Uncle Mike on the phone]
Ebert: Wise Guys is a movie with one big laugh after another, and yet the thing that really holds this movie together (and you could see it there) is the genial relationship between those two guys: between Moe and Harry; between Piscopo and DeVito. They like each other and they stick together. They try to fumble their way out of this mess. And they... they're neighbors in probably the worst street in New Jersey, and they are surrounded... well, I'm sure the people that very nice people live there, but the side that they live on looks pretty bad.
Siskel: You're in trouble now, Roger.
Ebert: And they are surrounded... the people across the street are great! And they are surrounded by a movie full of some of the best character actors in the business. The big surprise for me in Wise Guys, incidentally, was Danny DeVito. I've liked him before, but he has never been better than this time, and this shows what he can do in a way that I think will be used in other movies now. Wise Guys was directed by Brian De Palma, who specializes in thrillers and crime movies, and he made Scarface, and Dressed To Kill, among his serious films. This is his first comedy in a long time, and it is a good, laugh-out-loud comedy.
Siskel: I don't even think that's strong enough-- it's a GREAT laugh-out-loud comedy, and I'm gonna have a tough time at the end of the year deciding which film I laughed out loud the longest: Down And Out In Beverly Hills, this one, or Hannah And Her Sisters. I mean, this is really a riotous film, fabulous. DeVito in a starring role-- he's not supporting people now, like in Romancing The Stone. He's absolutely terrific. There's a performance that you referred to, but I want to give credit to: the guy in the big red coat-- I think he makes this movie work just as much as the two stars-- that's played by a wrestler, a former wrestler, Captain Lou Albano. He plays The Fixer. He plays this movie at a volume pitch, that if I actually started to use it, I'd blow out every TV set that's watching us. I mean, it's a screaming performance that is hilarious. This movie, I don't know how this director Brian De Palma did it, he starts out at this level and keeps it funny and intense... it's just spectacular.
Ebert: Well, one of the things he did, I'll just repeat myself, is he fills the movie with great performances. We could go down the list and start...
Siskel: [agreeing] Oh, God.
Ebert: And the thing is, each actor is able to make his little character, or his corner of the movie, into a three-dimensional person, a presence here, so that these are people who are interacting with each other, instead of, as is so often the case in crime movies, simply stereotypes, or simply one-dimensional.
Siskel: Or vehicles for setting up a physical stunt. There aren't physical stunts here, there are people running into each other, not cars!
Ebert: That's right. there are a couple of lines in this movie, now one that... I don't want to give it, I will give it... they talk about... you mentioned that the guy's name is The Fixer?
Ebert: That he's known as The Fixer. [laughs] They said, "What will Mrs. Fixer think?" [both are laughing] I laughed for about four minutes at that point.