Let's face it - Danny DeVito is typecast. From Louie DePalma on Taxi to the wife-hating husband in Ruthless People, DeVito has specialized in one role, the greedy, unprincipled moneymaker. Sure, he's escaped from this sleazebag strangle hold with the occasional sweet dolt (Throw Momma from the Train, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest), but the best Danny DeVito seems to be an avaricious Danny DeVito. When director Norman Jewison started casting his film version of Jerry Sterner's off-Broadway hit Other People's Money, he probably scribbled a list of possible leads. A list of one.
Lawrence Garfield, also known as Larry the Liquidator, is DeVito's scum du jour. Garfield is a Wall Street whiz with nary a thimbleful of scruples, a small man who likes big deals, a takeover king who believes wholeheartedly that the ends justify the means, assuming that the ends are green and plentiful. Garfield's entire life consists of consulting with his computer, which he has named Carmen, and finding vulnerable companies to raid. One fine morning, he stumbles across New England Wire & Cable, a venerable operation with a portfolio that's just too good to pass up. He rubs his hands with glee. Takeover time.
But Garfield hasn't counted on the company's dignified chairman, Andrew Jorgenson (Gregory Peck). Jorgy, as his employees call him, runs his company the old-fashioned way - on behalf of the employees rather than the stockholders, and he's no more likely to roll over and let Garfield nibble at his carcass than he is to shed his pipe and sweaters. He won't budge, so Garfield decides to move him. The war is on. And when Jorgy hires Kate Sullivan (Penelope Ann Miller), the daughter of his widowed assistant, Garfield finds himself in an even larger game, one that adds love and sex to the balance sheet.
Sterner's play was not only about corporate greed and moneylust, but also about the overtly ethnic clash between the hard-driving New York Jew and the austere WASP he comes to conquer. Jewison's film, unfortunately, strips away the ethnicity, and leaves behind a rather tepid Hollywood product. Most effective in the scenes between DeVito and the luminous Miller and least compelling in its lampooning of the business world, Other People's Money touches on a number of important moral issues. Do we sell out our friends for profit? Do we deceive those we think we might love? If only it were a little faster, and funnier.