TITLE: DEATH BECOMES HER
DIRECTOR: ROBERT ZEMECKIS
WRITERS: MARTIN DONOVAN AND DAVID KOEPP
THE BOTTOM LINE: Meryl Streep shines in a glitzy black comedy, but it's still She-Devil with a make-over.
Men pump up at the spa, bake their chests on the beach, use Rogaine as a hair spray. Yuppie vanity knows no gender. Yet Death Becomes Her says the yearning for youth is solely a female problem. This is a movie that hates women every bit as much as Enchanted April adores them.
Madeline (Meryl Streep), an actress, and Helen (Goldie Hawn), a writer, are obsessed with their bodies. They will go to a quack doctor or a fat farm to get flat and firm. To find a potion that will keep them forever young -- a kind of Preparation Age -- Mad and Hell will even make a mud-pact with Satan. And you can bet the devil is a woman (Isabella Rossellini). Only the sodden man in their lives (Bruce Willis), a plastic surgeon turned makeup artist for the newly dead, has any understanding of the toxic wastes that lace the Fountain of Youth.
For about an hour -- while Streep is doing her nonpareil wicked-witch routine -- you can have a good, mean time at this movie, in synch with the cartoonish comedy (Meryl tumbling down a staircase that has about 359 steps) and elaborate special effects (Is that a hole in Goldie's stomach or has she really slimmed down?). All this is swell. Farce, after all, should never be politically correct.
But the best farces are animated by disinterest, not contempt. This one is undone by the twin Hollywood trends of misogyny and morphing. The picture's political and technical slickness betrays its intentions and gives it the smooth, opulently dressed, unwontedly cheery look of a Beverly Hills corpse. -- R.C.