REVIEW: Twins (1988)

twins_posterI was still in primary school when Ivan Reitman’s hit comedy Twins (1988) opened in cinemas. I remember not enjoying it at all. I thought Schwarzenegger was not as good doing comedy as he was being Conan the Barbarian, and that co-star Danny DeVito had been much funnier playing the comic relief in Romancing the Stone. Thanks to a one-dollar DVD in an op shop I have now successfully revisited it as an adult, some 33 years later.

Say what you want about precocious 12 year-olds, but it turns out young Grant knew what he was talking about. Twins is terrible lowest-common-denominator stuff, and showcases just how much Ivan Reitman’s more enduring feature films relied on quality screenwriters to get across the line. While there are the odd funny moments and flashes – DeVito is a talented comic actor, after all – this is not some nostalgic gem needing revisiting.

You can easily imagine how it came about: some cocaine-addled mid-level executive at Universal Pictures selling their employer on a simple high concept. ‘They’re twins, right?’ they will have enthused to their boss, ‘but they don’t even look alike! And one of them is really big, and the other is really short! We’ll get the Terminator and the guy from Taxi. It’ll write itself!’ Of course it didn’t write itself at all, and instead required four credited writers to assemble the mess than Reitman shot. Something that is interested about it is that it is credited to two teams: William Osborne and Timothy Harris, and then William Davies and Herschel Weingrod. Both teams continued writing similar features in the 1990s – Harris and Osborne to the notoriously bad Stop or my Mum Will Shoot, and Davies and Weingrod to Reitman’s much funnier Kindergarten Cop. One wonders if two screenplays were combined, or if one team re-wrote the other.

What’s presented on screen really does feel like the result of two different directions fighting one another. There is a sense that someone somewhere along the development line chose not to trust the core concept of Schwarzenegger and DeVito being twins, because it is irregularly saddled throughout with an unnecessary B-plot about Vincent stealing a car with an experimental jet component in the back and trying to sell it for five million dollars. Both halves of the movie are weak, but they’re damaged even further by the film refusing to settle on direction or another.

If you narrow the film down to its core problem, it’s this: the film isn’t based in character or story. It is built up from a concept. It is a one-sentence sales pitch without a non-commercial purpose in sight. To draw the majority of its worth, one simply needs to look at the theatrical poster. Schwarzenegger and DeVito as twins? What a ridiculous and silly idea! Maybe you will smile momentarily, maybe not. You have, however, experienced the sum total of Twins’ appeal.

Most movie viewers of a certain age will hold a certain level of nostalgia for popular American cinema, but the memory can cheat. Twins may have attracted an enthused mainstream crowd in 1988, but I think it would struggle terribly with viewers today. We are, almost all of us, much more sophisticated viewers nowadays. Schwarzenegger would go onto the other, much better, comedies in the following years, while DeVito would rack up a string of exceptional performances in all kinds of films. Films like Twins are better left behind us, and conveniently forgotten.

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