Danny DeVito as "Larry the Liquidator," the gleefully remorseless corporate raider of "Other People's Money," is as perfect casting as Gregory Peck's staunch Atticus Finch in "To Kill a Mockingbird."
And the teaming of the actors in "Other People's Money" is felicitous. In one corner: DeVito's diminutive, gargoylelike Lawrence Garfield, devious, shameless and proud of it. In the other corner: Peck's tall, granitelike Andrew Jorgenson -- old-fashioned, virtuous and just as proud as Larry, with more justification.
Jorgenson is chief executive of New England Wire & Cable, a small but profitable corporation Larry covets for his collection. In the old days of movie making, there would be no contest; virtue tTC would surely triumph. But "Other People's Money," adapted from Jerry Sterner's stage success, takes place in the greedy corporate climate of recent years, when any act of unspeakable ruthlessness was entirely feasible.
Witty and richly entertaining, "Other People's Money" almost has the courage of its own cynical convictions. But at the end, it goes soft. Until then, the movie skillfully mixes malicious dark humor with genuine human drama.
The quick-witted daggers do come at a price. We wish for more interaction between Larry and Jorgenson. The delicious premise DeVito and Peck is carefully established, but the screenplay never fully takes advantage of the prospect. Most of the interplay is between DeVito's vulgar, libidinous Larry and Kate Sullivan -- a brash, young New York attorney who is the daughter of Jorgenson's longtime assistant and lover, Bea Sullivan. Kate is clearly a more polished version of Larry, and that's about as deep as the film's psychological probing gets. "Other People's Money" sacrifices characterization for quick, although admit tedly very funny, laughs.
Director Norman Jewison sometimes goes for an obvious camera angle but never at the expense of the audacious dialogue.
DeVito relishes every inflection of his wicked, wicked dialogue. Larry is great fun to watch, even if you wouldn't want to be in the same room with him.
Penelope Ann Miller, who was superb in supporting roles in "Awakenings" and "The Freshman," is initially uneasy as Kate. Her voice and manner are those of a stuck-up homecoming queen; but after a period of adjustment, they seem entirely appropriate for the character.
Peck makes us aware of Jorgenson's obvious strengths as well as his stubborn shortsightedness. His final plea to the company stockholders, at first faltering but then gaining in strength, is expertly realized. And Piper Laurie gives one of the film's finest performances as Bea Sullivan.
Had "Other People's Money" stayed on the same cynical track through its conclusion, it would have been a better film. It is, though, good enough -- and frequently more than good enough.
DeVito was born to play Larry the Liquidator. He knows it, he loves it and makes you love it, too.