Published November 1, 1998
Home Fries, written by Vince Gilligan and directed by Dean Parisot, stars Drew Barrymore as Sally, a girl from the wrong side of the tracks made pregnant by a relatively well-to-do married man called Henry. Henry’s wife Beatrice (Catherine O’Hara), having learned of his affair emotionally manipulates her two dutiful sons by an earlier marriage, Dorian (Luke Wilson) and Angus (Jake Busey), to kill their stepfather, who has a weak heart, by frightening him to death. As both boys are members of the Air National Guard and have apparently complete freedom to take out the AH-1 Cobra helicopter at weekends, this doesn’t prove too difficult—though you’ve got to suppose that old Henry was rather a suggestible sort. Does it never occur to him that it might be his stepsons in the helicopter that seems to be chasing him down, playing a prank?
Once he is dead, and in spite of his sins, Beatrice grieves extravagantly. She insists to her sons that she bears no responsibility for the death of their “rotten stepfather,” saying that the scare campaign was entirely their idea. But then she begins working on the boys by what must be similar methods of passive-aggressive blackmail to kill the girl, though she doesn’t yet know it is Sally. Dorian is horrified about what they have done, but Angus is entirely clinical and proud of their success. “I’m really starting to think I have a head for logistics,” he says. He immediately takes his mother’s hint and begins trying to think up ways to kill the girl whom Dorian, who learns her identity first, falls in love with, even though he realizes that she is his late stepfather’s inamorata and that the child she is carrying is, sort of, a brother.
If you can get over the inherent implausibility, it’s not a bad idea for a movie, and there are some funny scenes involving Sally’s family. A drunken hilbilly called Red (Lanny Flaherty), comes into the Burger-Matic where both Sally and Dorian work with a shotgun. He means to take hostages of the kids in a party there, and Dorian, dressed as the Buzz Burger robot, flattens him. It turns that he is the father both of Sally and of the boy he was supposedly taking hostage. His wife, Sally’s mother (Shelly Duvall), calls out to no one in particular, “I just want you to know, I ain’t with him no more.” She’s got a restraining order. But when they check his shotgun, she can’t resist scolding like a wife: “You didn’t even have any bullets in that gun!”
“What do you think I am, a maniac?” he asks.
Dorian and Angus didn’t have any bullets in their gun either when they frightened their stepfather to death, and we wonder briefly if there is a deeply Freudian and Oedipal significance to all this shooting of blanks. But any such interesting questions are soon forgotten as Mad Angus begins to go on the rampage (as gung-ho soldiers, we know from the movies, regularly do) with helicopter and without. This mildly suspenseful story—will he find and kill Sally before decent Dorian can prevent him?—takes up most of the rest of the movie. Dorian’s exertions on Sally’s behalf and at the same time his efforts to break away from the emotional hold of his monster mother naturally elicit our sympathy, but they never quite manage to be entertaining at the same time. His rather facile speech to his little posthumous step-brother to the effect that “Family’s the thing, and you got that in spades” is too familiar a sentiment quite to ring with the irony it is intended to.