Sitting Ducks (1979)

Genres - Comedy  |   Sub-Genres - Buddy Film, Odd Couple Film, Road Movie, Caper  |   Release Date - Apr 4, 1980 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 90 min.  |   Countries - United States  |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Nathan Southern

Maverick filmmaker Henry Jaglom's first box office success was this offbeat road comedy, that finds him taking a stride away from the fractured experimentation of A Safe Place and the disturbing psychodrama of Tracks. Michael Emil (the director's brother) and Zack Norman star as Simon and Sidney, two eccentric Manhattanites who team up to pilfer $750,000 from the mob and abscond with the money to Costa Rica. That's the set-up, but the criminal backstory scarcely matters; Jaglom merely uses it as an excuse, a framework on which to hang a series of vignettes in which his two lead characters share space and trade dialogue and exasperated glances at motels, in restaurants, and on the highways. And it works beautifully: Emil and Norman find an intuitive, jazzy rhythm, a witty repartee with pontifications on dozens of random subjects; the conversation is both entertaining and riotously funny. As a writer-director, Jaglom is traditionally known for improvisation; though it is unclear how much of the Sitting Ducks dialogue was ad-libbed and how much was scripted, the two lead characters that emerge here seem beautifully shaped and thought out in the hands of Norman and Emil. The ebullient mood of Sitting Ducks is best typified by the joyous sequences where Simon and Sidney - accompanied by three traveling companions - tool across the country in a limousine singing an infectious original composition, "Sunny Side Up." The director has indicated that he isn't as proud of this film as he is of some of the others in his catalogue, but it's a truly lovely piece of work; light but eminently enjoyable and not without moments of striking depth, many of them provided via co-star Patrice Townsend's unusual character. Jaglom followed this one up over 10 years later by shooting a sequel, Lucky Ducks, that went unedited and unreleased.