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Hit Rewind: ‘The War of the Roses’ (1989)

His debut feature, “Throw Momma From the Train,” showed his peculiar bent for bleak comedy.

But that was merely the appetizer for the main course, a spicy dish dubbed “The War of the Roses.” The 1989 feature took a beloved screen couple – “Romancing the Stone’s” Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas – and commanded them to squeeze the life out of each other.

Sometimes literally.

The film split critics and audiences alike during its theatrical release. Watch it today and applaud a black comedy classic. It’s also a sad reminder that DeVito’s directing career never fulfilled that early promise.

Oliver and Barbara Rose (Douglas and Turner) are the picture perfect couple. They met cute, had two adorable children and live in the kind of home that would leave poets tongue tied.

That’s the couple the public saw.

Barbara is actually sick and tired of being a Stepford Wife, an accessory to her husband’s gold-plated image. So when she asks Oliver for a divorce, it’s the spark that sets off a war unlike any other seen on screen.

Had “Roses” been made today, the film would have focused on the physical battles for supremacy. Consider “Bride Wars” as a nauseating example of the formula gone awry.

Instead, “Roses” spends the bulk of its time establishing the relationship between the leads, a complicated dance that touches on societal expectations, marital compromises and, in some cases, hedonistic pursuits.

DeVito, who also plays Oliver’s lawyer, uses sly camera angles and brilliant dissolves to bring visual snap to the proceedings. And he coaxes wonderfully modulated performances from his cast.

Douglas’ comic chops were a mostly untapped asset in the ’80s. Here, he strikes the right balance between privilege and persecution, restraining himself to let the escalating war generate the most uneasy laughs.

Turner lands the harder assignment, left to stew as a trophy wife left to her own devices. She’s sexy, vulnerable and, as the film veers to its logically dark conclusion, so very, very angry.

“The War of the Roses” is one of the worst love stories ever told, and a perennial antidote to the rom-com blues.

DID YOU KNOW: Danny DeVito’s audition for “Taxi” captured Louie De Palma so completely it forced the show to expand a character intended to stay mostly off camera. “One thing I wanna know before I start … who wrote this shit?” DeVito told the show’s brain trust, which included James L. Brooks.

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