review for The Ritz on AllMovie

The Ritz (1976)
by Craig Butler review

Always amusing and frequently very funny, there's a lot that is very right with The Ritz. Writer Terrence McNally has created a can't-miss premise and has built a solid, sturdy structure around it. He has peopled his farce with a wide range of types, and has put the main character in a life-or-death situation so that he has more than sufficient motivation. And of course the setting and gay angle give it a twist that, especially at the time of its release, is different. Director Richard Lester has added some nice touches (such as the lava lamp in the otherwise ornately Italian home at the start of the film) and has gathered a great cast. Jack Weston projects the right combination of vulnerability and exasperation, Jerry Stiller is properly single-minded, and Rita Moreno is a wonderful mix of self-delusion, steely ambition, and freakish exhibitionism. Treat Williams makes his potentially irritating character endearing, and F. Murray Abraham steals the scene every time he has a chance. Yet with all these assets, The Ritz remains a good film rather than a classic farce. McNally has failed to come up with enough jokes and sufficiently big pay-offs to situations, and there are crucial moments that don't ring true. (Why, for example, would Weston agree to perform in the very public talent show when his brother-in-law is literally gunning for him -- especially when the drag outfit he wears is neither sufficiently believable as a disguise nor sufficiently amusing as audience entertainment?) Lester also falls down on the job too often, allowing pacing to lag unacceptably in spots and not giving the film the visual energy from which it would benefit. Despite these flaws, however, The Ritz remains an enjoyably silly affair with some wonderful moments.