New-Release Tuesday: Throw Momma from the Train

Past the Popcorn provides South King Media with exclusive reviews of Theatrical and Home Video entertainment. We aim to dig just a little deeper than the surface of what we watch.

The Blu-rays and DVDs that find their way into the New Release bin are so fascinating.

This week, for instance, I could tell you about Michael Caine’s latest exercise in slumming, Dear Dictator, in which “an exiled British-Caribbean dictator seeks refuge with his pen pal, a rebellious teenage girl in suburban America, and teaches her how to start a revolution and overthrow the ‘mean girls’ in her high school.” I will spare you the details. However, I can share that Caine’s approach to taking jobs is quite unique. He just views them as opportunities for exotic vacations. So Dear Dictator was a win-win for Caine. Us? Not so much.

I could also tell you about the home-video release of Hostiles, the morose Christian Bale Western from writer/director Scott Cooper; but then I would have to wax eloquent about Rosamund Pike’s ridiculously fabulous hat or Cooper’s penchant for senseless slaughter, neither of which you’d want to hear much about.

Or I might tell you about the double-feature DVD release of Veggie Tales’ Rack, Shack & Benny and Where’s God When I’m Scared–both of which I’ve always found very entertaining… but they are never bound for the Blu-ray treatment, given that the original animation was barely adequate for VHS tapes. Not sure why this gets a re-issue! I guess because the price point drops?

Then there’s a new volume of Mr. Peabody and Sherman, perfect for the over-55 set, or the complete collection of Mermaids DVDs… but I’ll stop there. Ouch.

Instead, I’ll just say a few words about the 1980s classic comedy Throw Momma from the Train, which managed to get added to Amazon Prime this month without my notice.

A go-to staple in my personal movie library, Momma is one of those comedies you either absolutely love or simply don’t get. Its humor is quirky and obtuse, fueled by Billy Crystal’s mania and Danny DeVito’s opacity. The script is rich with wordplay and unexpected turns of phrase, which make for endlessly quotable dialogue–so when you re-watch, you giddily anticipate the delivery of your favorite lines.

DeVito plays Owen Lift, an hopelessly talentless and clueless aspiring writer whose main problem is not writer’s block (which would be kind of like mercy killing) but a nagging hag of a mother, with whom he still “lives.” Crystal plays Owen’s writing instructor Larry, who actually suffers from a hellacious case of writer’s block, a hellaciously vicious divorce, and a hellacious bunch of, um, students.

When Owen proposes that he and Larry help solve each other’s problems by “swapping murders” a la Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train, and misinterprets Larry’s response, a highly comedic plot is set in motion.

I’ve never watched such a pleasant movie about murderous intent.

Anne Ramsey is hysterical as Owen’s momma, and DeVito’s opacity is just pure sweetness as Owen, despite his criminal frustration. Kate Mulgrew is tremendously memorable as Larry’s plagiaristic ex, and even Kim Greist makes an impression as Larry’s girlfriend Beth. You will never think of trains, cows, coin collections, or Louie Armstrong in quite the same way again.

Throw Momma from the Train is now included with your Amazon Prime subscription. Apparently, you won’t find it anywhere else online!