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`WAR OF ROSES’ IS UNEASY BLEND OF COMEDY, CRUELTY

SHARE `WAR OF ROSES’ IS UNEASY BLEND OF COMEDY, CRUELTY

First off, make no mistake - just because the stars of this film are Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner and Danny DeVito, it is no relation whatsoever to "Romancing the Stone" and "Jewel of the Nile."

Further, if you've seen the previews for "The War of the Roses" your impression may be that this is a rollicking farce about divorce. To some degree that's true, but there's also a very dark, rather cruel edge to this film that you may be unprepared for.In fact, throughout viewing "The War of the Roses" my emotions were in a constant upheaval. The comedy is so over-the-top that right up to the end credits I expected there to be some kind of humorous coda, and yet the ending is as bleak as many of the film's parts.

One moment you may be chuckling at wild-eyed scenes played for big laughs, and the next you may be shuddering at nasty little touches, and that will make you wonder if you were really supposed to be laughing earlier.

"The War of the Roses" is the story of Barbara and Oliver Rose (Kathleen Turner, Michael Douglas), as told in flashback form by Oliver's friend and fellow lawyer Gaven D'Amato (Danny DeVito, who also directed).

The Roses seem an ideal couple, from their premarital romance to the early stages of their marriage, though it is apparent at the outset that Oliver is obsessed with, first, becoming a lawyer, then, later, a partner in his firm, and he neglects the family.

Barbara spends most of her time decorating their mansion and stocking it with very expensive items, and when the kids grow up and go off to college she starts to focus her attention on how obnoxious her husband can be.

Soon she asks for a divorce, and Oliver, so self-absorbed that he's incredulous at the suggestion, decides to fight her request to take over the house and all their possessions.

By the film's final act, which consists mainly of their declaring war on each other and destroying the house and everything in it, the divorce itself and their violent reactions to it have taken on an impetus all their own - the speeding train that can't be stopped, if you will.

DeVito's effort to make a risky, dark-hued movie about a failing marriage that escalates into all-out war would seem to be a picture whose time has come. And there are some wonderful ideas here, many moments that are alternately very funny and wickedly insightful.

And the performances are excellent, with Turner and Douglas both showing a fine flair for comedy.

But what put me off is the uneasy blend of the film's mean-spirited nature and the zany slapstick that accompanies it. There also seems to be a superficial lack of foundation for some of the things the characters do.

There is a place for dark satire, and this subject is ripe for it, but in the end "The War of the Roses" seems more an interesting failure than an edgy success.

It is rated R for violence, sex, profanity and brief partial nudity.