Larry wants his wife dead. Owen wants his mother dead. Of course, they’re not serious. Right?
Directed by Danny DeVito, and starring himself alongside Billy Crystal, Throw Momma From the Train is a black comedy that would make Alfred Hitchcock proud. Larry teaches a class for aspiring writers, made up of older adults with no writing experience. Owen is a student in Larry’s class, and in an attempt to teach him how to properly craft a murder mystery, Larry instructs Owen to watch a Hitchcock film. Owen watches Strangers on a Train and assumes this is Larry’s way of asking him to swap murders, the way the characters do in the film. So, Owen sets off to kill Larry’s wife, with the hopes that Larry will kill Momma in return, ensuring each person is safe from conviction.
Remember, this is a comedy. Also remember that Larry didn’t actually ask Owen to kill his wife, nor did he actually want her dead. Watching Crystal’s Larry frantically try to make sense of an absurd situation caused by Owen’s adolescent reasoning brings a lot of fun to a fairly dark concept. Crystal and Danny DeVito make a great comedic pair, and Anne Ramsay’s turn as the abrasive “Momma” is wholly satisfying. The use of Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train as the backdrop for the film’s plot is genius, and the influence is just enough to be familiar and not delve into “remake” territory. There are plenty of fantastic moments in the film that I won’t spoil, but be on the lookout for a scene involving Owen calling Larry on a payphone after a certain crime is committed, and Larry’s first confrontation with Momma. There’s an especially sweet moment of Owen opening up about his childhood that is guaranteed to bring a smile to your face. In addition to all that, Throw Momma From the Train features what may be the best book title ever created. If you’re a fan of Crystal or DeVito, watch this movie as soon as you can.
Now streaming on HBONow/HBOGO.