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DeVito's War of the Roses a witty, wicked black comedy

THE WAR OF THE ROSES

Directed by Danny DeVito.

Starring Michael Douglas, Kathleen

Turner and Danny DeVito.

Now playing at Loews Theaters.

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By MICHELLE PERRY

KATHLEEN TURNER, Michael Douglas, and Danny DeVito have rejoined forces. This time it's not jewels they're after but a property settlement in The War of the Roses.

The War of the Roses documents the birth, life, and death of the marriage of the Roses, played by Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas. As told by a divorce lawyer (Danny DeVito) to a potential client, it is the story of a fairytale courtship, a bitter marriage, and an inexorable plunge into the darkest pit of despair and hatred.

DeVito is both the director and creator of the film, as well as one of its stars. He credits the nuns of his elementary school days in New Jersey as the inspiration for the wicked humor which dominates the film. The dialogue is quick, barbed, and often very nasty, as the Roses abuse each other with consummate skill. This verbal abuse is accompanied by physical violence -- slaps, punches, flying objects, even attempted rape. As the film progresses, one wonders if the Roses' relationship can possibly deteriorate any further. It does, into something dark and terrifying yet still very funny.

Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas are naturals together, despite the exaggerated nature of their on-screen relationship. Each displays a fine sense of timing, and an ability to deliver comic lines. Despite the fact that Turner is the sultriest she's been since Body Heat, it is difficult to side with either character, making it fun to root for whoever has had the last laugh.

DeVito's character is an impish, joking womanizer one expects him to portray. However, during the Roses' divorce arbitration, husband and wife each try to swing him over to their side. DeVito comes out looking like a saint, while showing how depraved the Roses have become.

The cinematography is exceptionally noteworthy. A very active camera is a perfect accompaniment to the quick dialogue. Many shots are taken from a low angle, as if it were through DeVito's own eyes that events unfold. Slow tracking shots start a comfortable distance away from the characters but then draw closer and closer until the viewer is almost too intimately close for comfort. Unusual camera angles lend a warped perspective, as in a shot where the camera sits on Douglas' stomach as he slides backwards down a flight of stairs.

Sweet, sentimental films are abundant during the winter holiday season. For anyone sick of sap, The War of the Roses offers a potent cure.