MVD Visual: The Linguini Incident: Director's Cut (1991) - Reviewed

Images courtesy of MVD Visual

While an accomplished film and television director behind such shows and movies as Girls, Ugly Betty and The Handmaid’s Tale as well as The Matador with Pierce Brosnan and The Hunting Party with Richard Gere, the filmmaking career of writer-director Richard Shepard got off to a somewhat shaky start.  With a promising 1991 debut as a hotshot young indie writer-director in the star-studded quirky caper comedy The Linguini Incident starring David Bowie, Rosanna Arquette, Eszter Balint, Andre Gregory and Buck Henry, the film ran into production-problems including but not limited to cheques bouncing, final cut being revoked by the studio and the film opening theatrically amid the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles to meager box-office returns. 

Despite landing in the so-called ‘director jail’ for a little while there after terrible reviews and box office death, the filmmaker pressed on to his current status and in recent years regained the rights with his co-producer Sarah Jackson who insisted he restore as well as recut the film, with which Richard Shepard wholeheartedly agreed.  Now the film that nearly ended the filmmaker’s career has a second chance at finding a new audience in a beautifully restored 4K special edition supervised and approved by the director.  Initially on the radar among David Bowie fans as one of the performer’s few comedy roles, the film which recently screened at the Quad Cinema in New York promoting a forthcoming blu-ray disc and streaming release is a miniature cause for celebration sporting terrific performances from Bowie and Rosanna Arquette, unique costume and production design and maybe the most peculiar New York based comedy also featuring Arquette since After Hours.

Newbie British bartender Monte (David Bowie) is in a bit of a pickle with his two employers Cecil (Buck Henry) and Dante (Andre Gregory) over a bet that he can marry one of the waitresses at the restaurant he works at in order to obtain his green card.  Pairing up with fellow waitress and Houdini inspired escape artist in training Lucy (Rosanna Arquette) who roommates with lingerie designer Vivian (Eszter Balint), the newly formed trio conspire to rob their employer’s restaurant provided Lucy marries Monte and secures his green card.  The robbery doesn’t go completely as planned but seems to boost business for the establishment though amid everything, Lucy forgets to marry Monte and their ruse is thrown into jeopardy as the employers admit they know full well who robbed them.  Their partnership-in-crime is put to the ultimate test when they either face jailtime or Lucy pulls off a death-defying underwater Houdini escape before many spectators to exonerate them.

Featuring startlingly zany production design by Marcia Hinds of I Spy, early quirky soundtrack work by eventual American Beauty composer Thomas Newman and arresting green/pink hued cinematography by eventual Wes Anderson cameraman Robert Yeoman as well as unexpected cameos by David Bowie’s wife Iman and Julian Lennon, The Linguini Incident despite having little to do with linguini (none is seen onscreen) is a consistently entertaining, weird and fun caper comedy.  With a goofy yet compelling Bowie in one of his zaniest roles yet as well as an always stunning Rosanna Arquette in another New York based Scorsese-esque venture and sassy street-smart Eszter Balint, the trio play off of each other beautifully and make up an amusing ragtag group of wannabe criminals.

As aforementioned, the film came out at the worst possible time and bloodthirsty critics all but eviscerated the truncated theatrical cut which underwent several unwanted title changes on its sojourn to home video including but not limited to names like Shag-O-Rama.  Thankfully however, these wrongs seem to be righted by MVD Visual’s forthcoming director’s cut blu-ray compounded with a streaming release.  Made from a newly discovered 35mm interpositive found in an Austrian film lab with extensive color correction, additional re-editing of scenes and reframing of certain shots, this new and improved final director’s cut of The Linguini Incident is a solid, playfully weird caper comedy romp with laughs, thrills and even a little room for some romance.  All in all, an unexpected home run from the eventual director of The Matador with perhaps the funniest David Bowie role of the late rock legend’s career.

--Andrew Kotwicki