Roxanne is one of those movies that my criticisms of are delivered with a certain degree of reluctance. It’s too goofy and slapdash for me, but on the other hand, there’s so much effortless charm and likability that, bar the unbearably grating “smooth jazz” score, the film’s impossible to have any real ill will towards. So don’t take this mixed review to mean that I hate the film, or that you won’t necessarily enjoy watching it yourself (which you very well might). That being said, though, it just doesn’t hold up nearly as well as other comic fantasies from the late ‘80s/early ‘90s era (Chances Are, Groundhog Day).
Steve Martin lets his “quirky”, completely over-the-top side take full stage when playing C.D. “Charlie” Bales, a witty fire chief burdened with an unusually long nose. He’s not especially fond of that fact (in fact, in one scene, he even requests that most of his nose be entirely cut off) , but he’s not afraid to use this comically unusual part of his body as a) a perch for his pet bird, b) an excuse to snort wine instead of drinking it (don’t try that at home, kids), and c) surprisingly not much else, except for poking fun at himself upon hearing somebody mocking it at a bar. Part of me was almost expecting him to use his nose to hang off a pole or something, but I guess the special effects just weren’t there yet.
How his nose got so large in the first place is never explained, but as you may be expecting from this kind of Naked Gun-esque comedy, it’s far less concerned about explaining things like that than just being as ridiculously silly as possible. Sometimes, this works, but like The Naked Gun, I found myself just rolling my eyes at most of the dumb antics happening onscreen (I think Airplane! might be the only “wacky” ‘80s comedy that’s more genuinely hilarious than not).
Even then, the film is just too likable for me to ever really get that annoyed by it. However, it did edge dangerously close to that at times, particularly when miring itself in a shallow, formulaic romance subplot involving the titular character. Chris, a fresh arrival to the town’s fire squad, is in love with her, you see, but can’t even make proper conversation with this nice woman, so Charlie winds up helping him with that.
Lots of ludicrous (and overly obvious) misunderstandings ensue, first with a radio transmitter, then when Chris is trying to talk to Roxanne through a bedroom window at night—only it’s actually Charlie talking behind a bush. Of course, this leads to the obligatory montage of Roxanne finding out about everything, then getting upset at Charlie as a result, then realizing she actually loves him, then sappily professing this love without a single ounce of sincerity or believability.
But I digress. Roxanne is still a pleasant, enjoyable ride of a romantic comedy, which is a lot more than I could ever say for the soulless, profoundly unfunny garbage shoved into theaters these days (i.e. Failure to Launch). At the very least, it’s worth checking out just to see Steve Martin as an absurdist goofball, not the more grounded, relatable person that would grace comparatively restrained fare like Planes, Trains and Automobiles.