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Two of a Kind

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When Olivia Newton-John crooned the 1983 question, "Do we deserve a second chance?", little did she and co-star John Travolta realize the irony of following the bolt of lightning that is "GREASE" with this light-hearted, only in the 80's romantic comedy.

The originally planned title was the same name as Olivia's last big hit of the 80's, "Twist of Fate", but both the names "Twist of Fate" and "Second Chance" were eventually rejected in favor of "Two of a Kind". The title referred to the less than moral decisions made by the two main characters, Debbie, played by Newton-John, and Zack, played by Travolta.

Whereas "Grease" had the advantage of a successful Broadway musical as its foundation, "Two of a Kind" seems to follow more of the strange brew formula Olivia set with her first post-Grease film, 1980's "Xanadu".

To encapsulate this film's plot in brief is unfair to the American public, but here goes: After a long vacation, God returns to the gates of Heaven. In an uncredited and bizarre turn of events, God is represented by an eternal light and the voice of Gene Hackman. Ironically, Hackman contributed uncredited voice work to 1987's "Superman IV: The Quest for Peace" as well, by providing the voice of Nuclear Man, played sans voice by the aptly named Mark Pillow.

*If I may digress a moment, 1980's "Superman II" (released in the United States in June 1981), directed by Richard Lester, who finished the direction following fired first director Richard Donner, didn't have Gene Hackman available for post-production work, so a Gene Hackman voice-alike was used. One wonders, had the producers of "Two of a Kind" realized what a flop they were about to make, if their money and/or Hollywood favors would have been better spent on Hackman's voice-alike, who otherwise must lead a rather lonely life if that is his sole profession.

Anyway, God's pi**ed because people are rotten and he tells his assemblage of angels, played by four Hollywood old-timers, he plans to start over again by flooding the Earth, just like before (ie., Old Testament before).

The angels are quick to point out to God that there are good people left, and, with Olivia's "Livin' in Desperate Times" playing in the background, show God John Travolta. These angels do not deserve their wings -- Travolta's a no-goodnik inventor who's indebted to two goofy mobsters and decides to rob a bank so that the goofy mobsters don't cut off his ears.

I'm not making this stuff up folks.

Olivia, playing an unemployed actress (foreshadowing perhaps?), is the bank teller who waits on blonde-wigged Travolta. Look for a quick cameo by a John Travolta relative in the bank, continuing his long lineage of film nepotism...

Basically, Olivia keeps the money herself, Travolta gets the blame, and they end up dead. Seriously.

But the movie isn't over because the four angels have powers that include the ability to edit a movie and they "rewind" time and provide a last minute assist that saves Zack and Debbie from the great beyond.

This gets the attention of the Devil, played with great applomb by Oliver Reed, who thinks that ending all life is a grand idea.

The back and forth continues between the angels, the Devil, the two goofy mobsters, and God, as Zack and Debbie fall in love. One nice moment in the film: in one of the early "let's play a hit song while we shorthand our main characters falling in love moments", Olivia's Twist of Fate plays while Zack and Debbie play around downtown Manhattan, including the South Street Seaport within a stone's throw of Ground Zero.

When the movie is a simple romantic comedy, as in the Twist of Fate scene, and some of the dialogue between Travolta and Newton-John, it's cute, but then it becomes this completely different film of good versus evil and wacky mobsters. One moment, Debbie and Zack are having a nice romantic moment, the next there's a huge food fight at the Plaza Hotel's restaurant thanks to the machinations of the Devil and the two goofy mobsters.

I'm serious, I swear.

As time runs out on God's deadline, and storm clouds loom, the angels make the Devil realize that, in a flood situation, all the people will go to Heaven and the Devil won't have anybody to work with. Suddenly, the end of all life doesn't seem like such a good idea to the embodiment of evil so he disguises himself as a robber and takes Olivia hostage.

This is already after Ernie Hudson from Ghostbusters has arrested both Debbie and Zack and, with the Devil's due again, tricks Zack into betraying Debbie. But Debbie sacrifices her own freedom to keep Zack's confidences. This is half a miracle under God's litmus test for keeping humankind going.

The rest of the miracle takes place on the roof of a building as the Devil, disguised as the robber, takes aim at poor Olivia, who doesn't deserve any of this, and shoots. Travolta takes the bullet, in another example of art echoing life.

If I told you that Zack dies yet again and, that this time, God himself, or is that Lex Luthor, brings Zack back to life, would you believe me?

And all that Olivia and John have to say about the whole thing before walking off together -- "what a strange week." Hey, they didn't have to sit through the movie.

Olivia always claimed to be very careful about her film role choices after Grease. She had made a film in the UK in the 60's that tanked before Grease, yet she followed "Grease" with "Xanadu" and "Xanadu" with this mess. Both times, Olivia has said that she learned not to accept work before a script is finalized, yet she went on to make "A Mom for Christmas", the TV-movie starring Olivia as a mannequin turned Mom. Ironically, all of Olivia's post-Grease film work involves divine intervention (Xanadu with the Greek Gods of myth and Two of a Kind with, well, God), and I remember watching the film in 1983 as it opened in the clouds, rising up to Heaven, with heavenly music playing INSTEAD of an Olivia Newton-John hit like you would have expected. I thought "Jeez, she's starting another movie in Heaven." The movies over time, especially "Xanadu", have developed a certain charm and following and Olivia's legion of followers are loyal to all of her film appearances.

The tragedy is this movie was such a bomb it wasn't even noteworthy enough to kill Travolta's career, unlike, say, "Perfect". Travolta had recently finished Sylvester Stallone's masterpiece, After M*A*S*H, oh no, I'm sorry, I meant "Staying Alive", the sorry sequel to "Saturday Night Fever". Travolta still had the Stallone-built body of Staying Alive and he was eager to show it in shirtless scenes with Olivia.

As far as Olivia's deviance went, this film brought Olivia fans her first on-screen curse. In true Olivia fashion, the curse (shit) is uttered not at a person but at a pair of edible sunglasses invented by Travolta. But, in the romantic scenes with Travolta, supposed bad girl Debbie remains fully robed in pink.

A special edition DVD would appeal to Olivia fans and Travolta groupies, and may have the ability to turn this film into a cult hit like "Xanadu".

The soundtrack featured several hits in addition to "Twist of Fate", including three additional songs by Newton-John (including a duet, "Take a Chance", with Travolta), and offerings from Boz Scaggs, Steve Perry, and Peter Cetera. The soundtrack is available on CD and, while it isn't "Grease" or even "Xanadu", the Newton-John offerings are strongly produced. The remainder of the soundtrack appears a mish-mash, rather than the I get half-you get half approach to the Xanadu soundtrack between Olivia and the Electric Light Orchestra.

This was Olivia's last starring film role in the 80's as she spent the Reagan years in domestic bliss with hubbie (now ex) Matt Lattanzi, whom she met on the "Xanadu" set, and daughter, Chloe Rose. Travolta went on to obscurity, notoriety, obscurity, notoriety, obscurity, notoriety, obscurity, and back to notoriety.

Poor Scatman Crothers - first axed by Nicholson in the Shining, now this? Where's Hong Kong Phooey when you need him?

And just when you thought Hackman couldn't have possibly prostituted his career more in the 80's than by voicing God in this film, he returns to the role of Lex Luthor in 1987's "Superman IV", the K-Mart blue light special of Superman sequels.

Verdict?

I hate giving Two of a Kind a low rating and I almost gave it a 4 instead of 6. (But then I gave it an 8 just to be awkward. If I'd seen the movie I may have given it more.. can anyone else help me out here? -Editor)

It's an odd film, but so many 80's films are odd, and that's why we talk about them still, isn't it? This film has yet to catch its retro-audience, but stranger things have happened. Could be a strange twist of fate, telling me this DVD will wait.

But now that Grease and Xanadu are both on DVD, this would be the finishing touch to the Newton-John DVD trilogy. If you don't like Olivia as much as me, it's still a cute 80's movie so give it a try.

Notice any mistakes? Review

Strengths: Olivia can't help but be cute onscreen even when she's trying to play a bad girl like Debbie and the MTV-style Twist of Fate scene rocks.

Weaknesses? Pretty much everything else.

Our rating: 8 out of 10


Review Written by Barry Freiman:  Contact  |  More Reviews by Barry Freiman
Two of a Kind