Synopsis: In this hilarious undercover comedy, violinist Richard Drew (Tom Hanks) is mistaken for a spy after wearing one red shoe, triggering a game of rivalry between feuding C.I.A. bosses (Charles Durning, Dabney Colman). Though Richard is mugged, shot at and chased, he remains unaware that he is an object of suspicion, and even falls in love with the agent (Lori Singer) who’s trailing him. Meanwhile, his friend’s (Jim Belushi) love-starved wife (Carrie Fisher) has designs on him as well.
eyelights: Tom Hanks.
eyesores: Lori Singer. the direction. the script.
As a fan of Pierre Richard, I’ve known about this remake of his ‘Le grand blond avec une chaussure noire’ for years. I don’t remember if I’d seen it before, but I was mildly curious to see what it would look like as a Tom Hanks vehicle – especially since he played in a few decent comedies at the time, and because the Pierre Richard remakes that came out during that time were all pretty good.
Alas, ‘The Man With One Red Shoe’ is neither Tom Hanks’ best ’80s comedy (or his worst, let’s be honest, here), nor is it the best adaptation of a Pierre Richard film. If anything, it comes off as one of many lackluster comedies from the era: it’s directed with no grace or sense of nuance, was hammered out by the script mill, acted without conviction, and it lacks the substance that makes one laugh heartily.
All in all, it’s a fairly lame affair.
The worst of it is that it actually follows the original quite closely. I almost expected a bastardization of the classic French film, but it pretty much sticks to the blueprint:
Feeling the heat that was turned on him by a rival, the head of the CIA decides to use a patsy to bring his opponent out in the open and clear his own name in the process. The patsy: some anonymous shmuck who is randomly picked out in an airport terminal by the CIA head’s aide. Why? Simply because he’s wearing one red shoe.
Now flagged as an informant who will divulge his knowledge to a Senate Committee hearing, Tom Hanks’ life is guarded by the CIA head’s operative all the while it is being dissected by the rival. He is followed everywhere, unbeknownst to him, his apartment is torn apart and monitored, and his personal life is infiltrated by a beautiful CIA operative, played here by Lori Singer.
Watching this was like watching a kid’s dress-up version of what espionage would be like. It’s completely silly and unbelievable throughout: agents are everywhere, all wearing suits and sunglasses, are able to get into any place they need to get, can set up gadgets anywhere they want to, and plant their monitoring stations anywhere that they want . But they can’t do their jobs adequately or even look like serious people – they look like they’re play-acting.
Lori Singer, in particular, is horrendous. In ‘The Man With One Red Shoe’, what we get is basically a poor man’s version of Daryl Hannah – and Hannah can be quite bad (think ‘Wall Street‘). Well, I’d say that Singer is actually even less good than Hannah can be when at her worst. I have no idea how she got the part, but she must have come cheap .
What was particular about her part, though, is that it was expanded from the original to make her more integral to the story, even though her character and the new scenes didn’t fit in the picture one bit – it was so contrived that you had to wonder what the writer was thinking, and who was benefiting from having her on screen as much as she was (not the audience, that’s for sure!).
Furthermore, a few of her scenes had a b&d-lite motif going for them, which I found rather unusual, contextually. While the scene in which she walks around on her knees in a backless dress is pilfered from the original, in this version there was an allusion to oral sex and she was made to crawl around in a semi-seductive manner. And don’t even get me started about the shots of her lounging around with her arms over her head, joined at the wrist against a bedpost. She wasn’t doing this for comfort, that’s for sure!
Meanwhile, Hanks was pretty good. He played it subtle, even more so than in ‘Splash’, and it was just right for the role – he was supposed to be a regular guy who is blissfully unaware of what was going on behind the scenes, after all. Unfortunately, his character was kind of bland, and there’s not much that he could have done to give it the flavour he often brought to his comedies back in the day. But he did what he could with a character that was poorly written, and tried to define him as best as he could.
The direction in ‘The Man With One Red Shoe’ is so weak that many otherwise decent actors were under-performing here (even Carrie Fisher’s delivery is off, if not amateurish – and one instance should inarguably have been an out-take), the choice of shots are sometimes cheesy (ex: when Tom Hanks falls, sedated by 5-6 darts, a frame with a childhood picture of his is then captured falling as well) or the set-ups are bad (ex: the whole sequence at the dental office, which was poorly conceived and heavy-handed).
Basically, what Stan Dragoti did was to overdo the goofiness throughout the picture – not just in general but in comparison to the original film. For instance, there’s a sequence in which Hanks returns home to find that it’s been messed around with by the operatives who came in looking for clues. Nothing seems to work properly now. I can see how it might have been tempting to dial up the comedy here, but Dragoti failed to provide justification for any of the things that happen to Hanks. Hanks just shrugs everything off: sawed off chair, no problem, completely messed up waterworks, no problem, …et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
Now, a real person of average intellect and judgement would wonder about these peculiar happenings. Not here. The problem is that, in doing this, Dragoti made the scene impossible to accept and, thus, removed the audience from the humour it was supposed to enjoy. Similarly, when we visit the dental office, Dragoti has the CIA agent walk in there spraying everyone in sight, not covering his tracks and doing sloppy work in general (including getting the wrong target). Not only was the office devoid of patients and staff, but it didn’t even look like a proper office, with sets that shook like cardboard. How are we supposed to buy into any of that?
What would have worked would have been if Hanks’ character were more accident-prone, like Pierre Richard’s was. By making the character more cartoony, then we’d buy into what’s happening to him more. However, by making him the straight man, suggesting some sort of relative relatability, and then making everything around him goofy, we can’t believe that he’s as oblivious as he is and that everyone is so inept. It turns the affair into something along the lines of ‘Three’s Company’. Bizarrely enough, it’s only during the seduction scene that Hanks is suddenly all thumbs – but it’s only that one time, so it was completely out of character.
I blame the director. Maybe the screenwriter too. What could have been a hilarious picture ended up being a needless misfire due to a failure to communicate the humour properly. It’s a shame because it would have been such a perfect role and vehicle for Hanks, but it was developed quite poorly – and somehow, they managed to make an imperfect film even worse in translation. As it stands, ‘The Man With One Red Shoe’ is only enjoyable as a concept, really. It’s not a horrible film, per se, but it is slipshod filmmaking and comedy.
Date of viewing: January 15, 2013