"Roxanne" is a sweet, entertaining version of Edmond Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac, the French play that enjoyed one of the longest runs on Broadway. The title character in the play was a nobleman serving in the French army who was renowned for his wit, his poetry, his music, and his dueling ability. But because he was born with a grotesquely long nose, he felt doomed to love from afar, and the object of his love was a distant cousin named Roxane. But gallantly and good-naturedly he teaches a young and attractive rival how to woo the fair Roxanne, with one of the most famous scenes having him hide in the bushes to coach Christian on what to say as the latter tries to win her hand while she looks down from the balcony.
The play is a tragedy, with Christian and Roxane marrying, Christian killed in combat, and Cyrano suffering in silence because he promised Christian he would never reveal to Roxane that it was he who wrote the letters and he who spoke such poetry as to make her swoon. Even on his deathbed, he continues to deny that it was him, and he dies in his beloved's arms.
Bummer, right? But Hollywood being Hollywood, Steve Martin manages to turn this weeper into a pleasant and engaging romantic comedy that has appeal for more than just the usual "chick flick" crowd. That's because of the considerable charms of Daryl Hannah (whose nude backside is shown again, ala "Splash") and the comic one-liners and monologues that Martin has written into it so that watching his character is like watching a good stand-up comedian at work. Throw in a deck of kooky small-town cards and some interesting British Columbia mountain scenery and it all adds up to an enjoyable 107 minutes.
Martin plays Charlie Bales, a fire chief whose department consists of such misfits that they unknowingly start a fire in their own firehouse, and end up in a tangle like a glob of earthworms when they try to work a hose. Among them is a '70s guy who runs a taxidermy shop and wears furs and gold chains (John Kapelos) and familiar character actor Michael J. Pollard ("Bonnie and Clyde"). Needing help with this sad and ineffectual group, Charlie has hired a real firefighter to help him train them, and when Chris (Rick Rossovich) arrives the men warn him that Charlie is a great guy . . . but don't stare at his nose. He tends to fly off the handle if people make a big deal out of it. And whatever you do, don't make fun. Two tourists headed for the slopes make that mistake, and Charlie takes them both on with a tennis racquet, basically assaulting them. But hey, this is a romantic comedy and Charlie is the good guy with a physical flaw that we're all supposed to identify with (since none of us is perfect), and so of course no charges are filed.
And where does the fair Roxanne come in? In this version, Hannah plays an astronomer who has rented a house from a local who works at a diner--a woman named Dixie (what else?), played by Shelley Duvall. Roxanne chose the house because of it's tower-like structure, from which she hopes she can gaze through her gigantic telescope and nail down an elusive new comet she thinks she's discovered. His first encounter with her happens when she Roxanne locks herself out of the house and, like Mary in "It's a Wonderful Life," finds herself buck-naked and in an awkward situation. So she turns up at the fire house, where Charlie casually agrees to assist. Like a gymnast he goes from ground to attic window in a jiffy--Martin reportedly did his own stunts, too--and soon he's getting to know the newest gal in town. Like Cyrano, he'd declare his love if he wasn't so sure she was out of his league. But when Chris, who's as shallow as pond water on a microscope slide, sees her at the local watering hole and thinks she's "hot," Charlie agrees to help him--especially considering that Chris has his own affliction. He gets so tongue-tied around women that sometimes it makes him physically sick to his stomach. Just when things get going, for example, he heads for the bathroom and escapes.
So there you have it. Not much more happens in this light version of Cyrano de Bergerac, but it's so darned appealing that it's hard to resist. As I said, mostly you have to credit the two stars, who make for a nice fit and who know how to hold the audience's attention every time the camera is trained on them, with a look here, or a perfectly delivered line there.
In one of the movie's key scenes, Charlie is made fun of in public by a lout who calls him out. Everyone in the bar holds his/her breath, waiting for Charlie to lose it and dispatch the fellow with his usual dueling (martial arts) prowess. But no, he accuses the man of being a dullard. "Big nose? Is that all you got?" And he proceeds to accept the challenge of coming up with 20 more clever insults about his own nose, winning over the crowd (and the audience) in the process. In the end, the writing is just clever enough, the characters are likeable enough, and the comic relief is just enough to make this film a winner.
For a 1987 catalog title, "Roxanne" really doesn't look all that much better on Blu-ray than it does on DVD. The AVC/MPEG-4 transfer seems clean enough, with no artifacts and no DNR, but the picture has a soft look to it. There's a slight but consistent level of graininess which is accompanied by a Vaseline-lens look in a number of scenes. Where you notice the Hi Def is in extreme close-ups and in some of the interior scenes, which have sharper edges, stronger black levels, and more color saturation. Same with exterior shots that aren't long shots. Because there are also a few flickers here and there, my guess is that the source material is no great shakes. "Roxanne" is presented in 2.40:1 aspect ratio.
The audio is just as unimpressive: an English, French, or Portuguese Dolby TrueHD 5.1 with another option in Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1. It's a flat-sounding soundtrack that doesn't really involve the effects speakers much. Bass could have been fuller, mid-tones could have been richer. Subtitles are in English, English SDH, French, Spanish, and Portuguese.
I don't know what's more disappointing, that the video and audio isn't as strong as one would hope, or that, as with the original DVD release, there isn't a single bonus feature. Not one!
Fans of this film are going to want to pick up the Blu-ray even though it's only a slight improvement over the DVD. All our collections are moving toward Blu-ray, and eventually that will mean including titles whose source materials keep them from being stellar Hi-Def discs.