You wouldn’t have a Rodney Dangerfield movie without one-liners. Considering he shares a screenwriting credit on Easy Money, it’s no surprise he spends the running time firing off one after another when he’s not chain-smoking joints.

But does a Dangerfield script mean sharp writing? Well, yes and no. Mostly, Easy Money gives him a platform to revel in the self-deprecating humor he’s best known for, and to establish that sensibility throughout the film. It also, unfortunately, means having a pretty messy plot overstuffed with characters. Dangerfield’s act relied on short, disconnected quips. Likewise, the scenes in this movie don’t always feel like they have that much to do with one another.

Fortunately, Dangerfield (and the talented cast) save most of the movie.

Dangerfield is at his best, playing a lout who’s a slave to his appetites. The day before his daughter’s wedding, he’s due to pick up the cake, but gets distracted, blowing his money at the track, a strip club and a craps game with his enabling friends in tow. But when his wealthy mother-in-law passes, he has the chance to inherit $10 million — if he can stay on the straight and narrow for a year.

Dangerfield is a pretty odd duck in this movie. The satyr in him feels authentic, as does his regular schmoe bit. It’s harder to buy him as a family man, though, especially considering how pure the rest of his kin are by comparison (there’s a great scene starring Jennifer Jason Leigh as Dangerfield’s daughter, who has saved herself for her wedding night — and seems to prefer saving herself for beyond that night, as well).

There’s more weird casting with Joe Pesci, who plays Dangerfield’s guidofied, hot-headed friend. In other words: the Joe Pesci role. He has some great deadpan comebacks, but predictably feels a little out of place in a comedy.
These rough edges shouldn’t stop anyone from checking this out, however. The ’80s were Dangerfield’s golden era, and he’s in peak form. Despite a dearth of mother-in-law jokes, he delivers some zingers. When a rude neighbor tells Dangerfield not to interrupt his dog while doing his business, he replies, “What makes you think I want to inherit his business?”

It’s far from a perfect film, but Easy Money is an easy investment of time.

Andrew Good is a film critic and writer living in San Diego.

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