For the Boys
Imagine where James Caan's name would appear on a list of potential actors to play a song and dance man/heartthrob maybe somewhere slightly above Sylvester Stallone's? Now imagine the kind of dire straits a film has to be in when it actually casts Caan in this kind of role. Such was the fate of For the Boys, a far-reaching yet shortsighted musical/comedy/drama in which Caan stars as Eddie Sparks, a singer and stage personality who travels the USO circuit a la Bob Hope. Bette Midler plays Sparks' cloying, foul-mouthed, semi-talented stage partner and nemesis, Dixie Leonard. The film begins with a predictable flashback set up to recap 50-plus years of the anger-filled relationship between Dixie and Eddie. From World War II to a hit '50s television series in the I Love Lucy tradition, to Korea, and finally to Vietnam, Eddie and Dixie spit and hiss and bicker. Under the direction of Mark Rydell, who seems to have been unable to decide on an emotional tone for the film, For the Boys careens from pathos to humor to Busby Berkley routines it's like watching Follow the Boys and Apocalypse Now told in the vein of Forrest Gump.
Foremost among the film's many shortcomings is the absolute, complete, and utter lack of chemistry between Caan and Midler. There is never a time in the movie when we can find a reason why these two people would spend a minute together, and often it feels as if they aren't even on the same set or in the same film. In scenes created to imply that Eddie is hot for Dixie, Caan looks like he wants Midler about as much as he wants a terminal disease. Lack of believability also contributes to the film's flatness Caan is supposed to be a world-class performer, yet he never actually performs anything that justifies his star status. (This is mostly because Midler gets all the big performance numbers.) Plus, Caan at his best is no prize, but here he looks positively frightening far from the movie-star-handsome appearance called for by the character. Finally, the make-up in For The Boys is appalling it's worthy of a Mystery Science Theater 3000 showing. Midler's aged-dowager appearance in the opening and final scenes makes her look like Dustin Hoffman in Little Big Man, and throughout the film Caan looks progressively worse until, in the final scenes, he's most like something sprung from Ed Wood's imagination. Unless you are in the mood to spend two unrelenting hours with a couple of vitriolic, aging stage stars, you'll want to skip this debacle. When Eddie tells Dixie, "Just relax and follow my lead," Dixie's answer speaks for the film's audience "Yeah, right off a cliff." Fox's DVD offers a widescreen transfer (1.85:1) with audio in Dolby Digital 4.1. Extras include theatrical trailers and TV spots. Keep-case.