Off Beat (1986)

Genres - Comedy, Romance  |   Sub-Genres - Police Comedy, Romantic Comedy, Slice of Life  |   Release Date - Apr 11, 1986 (USA)  |   Run Time - 92 min.  |   Countries - USA  |   MPAA Rating - PG
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This easygoing and amiable romantic comedy from producer Joe Roth and Disney's Touchstone division slipped by audiences and did poor box office in the spring of 1986. Off Beat's initial failure was perhaps tied to its misalignment with the cinematic zeitgeist of the period. Mid-late 80s Hollywood specialized in big, loud, flashy comedies like Little Shop of Horrors, Spaceballs and the Police Academy pictures, and back then, mainstream audiences may not have been prepared for a slight yarn that has more in common with Bill Forsyth or Ealing Studios than it does with, say, Neal Israel or the Zucker Brothers. But that wasn't the picture's fault, of course, and Off Beat deserves reappraisal. Directed by Michael Dinner and scripted by playwright Mark Medoff (Children of a Lesser God), it sets up what appears to be a conventional fish-out-of-water and comedy-of-errors scenario, where an underdog librarian (Judge Reinhold) is thunderstruck by love for a lady cop (Meg Tilly) but must hide behind an assumed identity while courting her. But then Medoff's script does something unexpected and rather brilliant: it skirts around the broader farcical possibilities implied by its premise. Instead, we get a diverting comedy of low-key behavioral observation, with a supporting ensemble portrayed by a who's who of character actors - including Cleavant Derricks, Julie Bovasso, John Turturro, Penn Jillette, Fred Gwynne and Michael Tolkan - the sort of names that classify this immediately as a picture made by and for film lovers. Throughout, there are also numerous surprises - quirks, one might say - in terms of how these idiosyncratic characters respond to each other, particularly one shocking exchange between Tilly and Tolkan's officers in a delicatessen. In other words, Medoff's script isn't afraid to follow its subjects into whichever scenarios their eccentricities may lead them. The result is a small treasure of a movie. Tilly and Reinhold are superb in the leads, and succeed at making us care deeply for the central couple.