Two of a Kind


You can imagine how excited people in Hollywood were after the enormous success of “Grease” in 1978. “Wow!” they must have thought. “We can make millions of dollars just by sticking John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John together in a movie! And it apparently doesn’t even have to be a very good movie!” This line of thought eventually led to “Two of a Kind,” a desperate movie from 1983 that is notable for featuring the last vestiges of dignity that either star would display publicly for many years to come.

The story is straight out of the Bible. Not the Bible you’ve heard of, though. A different one, where God is insane and has the voice of Gene Hackman. After being on vacation for 25 years, God returns to heaven, and already I have a problem with this film, because where do you go for vacation when you LIVE in heaven? Wouldn’t you just stay home?

Anyway, God returns, looks at the state of the world, and is very displeased, which is to be expected considering he abandoned it for 2 1/2 decades. He tells his adviser angels, played by the likes of Charles Durning and Scatman Crothers, that he’s going to wipe out all of humanity with a flood, and the angels are like, “No, don’t, there are still some good people on Earth!” And God is like, “Oh yeah? Where??” And the angels choose a guy at random and are like, “This guy! He’s a good person!” But unfortunately it’s John Travolta.

Travolta plays Zack, a New Yorker who’s trying to make a living as an inventor of dumb gadgets and novelty items. (Among them: edible sunglasses. I’m not making that up.) He owes money to some bad guys for reasons that either are not explained or that I have forgotten, and when we meet him he’s planning to rob a bank to pay them back. Even the lazy, capricious God imagined by this film doesn’t care much for bank robbers, so he’s totally laughing at his stupid angels for choosing this guy as their hero.

two of a kind

Zack, disguised in an absurd mustache and wig and wielding a gun, orders a bank teller to fill a bag with cash. The bank teller is Debbie, played by Olivia Newton-John, looking remarkably like Markie Post on “Night Court.” She flirts with Zack and pretends to fill the bag with cash while actually filling it with scraps of paper and keeping the money for herself. Zack does not realize this until he gets home and opens the bag; he had forgotten that the practice of always checking your order before you leave the drive-thru window applies to bank heists, too. Meanwhile, Debbie gets fired for flirting with the bank robber, as that is discouraged even at shoddy financial institutions that allow incompetent gunmen to rob them. Even Washington Mutual wouldn’t have put up with that.

Next thing you know, Zack is being chased by the loan sharks, who are unsympathetic to his report that he tried to steal enough money to pay them back and that the stupid bank teller double-crossed him. Loan sharks probably hear that excuse all that time. “You gotta check your order before you leave the drive-thru window!” they probably said to him. Somehow there is a car chase, and then Zack falls off an overpass onto the street, landing on Debbie — quite a coincidence, that — and killing them both. The end.

two of a kind

But wait! Up in heaven, God and the angels have been watching this unfold, and now the angels have an idea. They’ll reverse time to prevent Zack and Debbie’s deaths — see, this is a bad idea already — and then manipulate their lives so they befriend one another. The angels’ deal with God is that if Zack and Debbie act selflessly toward one another within one week, God will spare the world from his wrath. So the fate of all mankind comes down to whether these two idiots can do something unselfish for once in their lives.

You know who doesn’t want this plan to work? The dark lord Satan! Taking the form of Beasley (Oliver Reed), a poncey Englishman with a walrus mustache, Lucifer does whatever he can to prevent Zack and Debbie from becoming good people. The way he figures it, if God destroys the world, all those billions of souls will go to hell, and there’s nothing the devil loves more than a hell full of souls. But God already told the angels that he will bring everyone up to heaven after he drowns them. In other words, God is so disgusted by the wickedness of the world that he’s going to murder all its citizens and send them to heaven, where their punishment will be to dwell with him in joy and happiness for all eternity.

two of a kind

I assume the reason God is only heard and not seen in this movie is out of respect for the audience’s regard for the Almighty. I wonder if portraying him as a careless buffoon negates that.

So the angels rewind time, and now Zack is looking for the bank teller who stole his stolen money. Zack learns from a newspaper story about the robbery that the teller is named Debbie and that she’s an aspiring actress. (Olivia Newton-John playing someone who wants to be an actress is like Tom Cruise playing someone who wants to be tall.) He apparently also learns the time and location of her acting classes, as well as her home address, because he shows up both places and terrifies her — terrifies her because he wants his money, I mean, not because he’s John Travolta, although that would be alarming, too, to open your door and see that giant beefy face staring at you. Then somehow they wind up at dinner together, and there is a pie fight, and Beasley and the angels, including St. Charles and St. Scatman, keep rewinding and fast-forwarding time, because apparently the devil can do that, too. When it’s all over, for some reason Zack and Debbie are in love.

Since Zack and Debbie are now in love, as you may recall from the previous sentence, they spend the next day doing fun people-in-love things. This causes Debbie to miss an important Broadway audition that she didn’t know about, and she decides this is Zack’s fault. She’s also being evicted from her apartment, though she mentions this in passing and the film doesn’t even hint at what the reason is. She also suddenly has a job as a waitress. Apparently an entirely different movie has been going on behind our backs.

But remember how Zack is wanted for bank robbery? Beasley leads the police to him, and he and Debbie are both arrested, whereupon Zack is fairly easily tricked by the cops into pinning the whole thing on Debbie. The cops record his testimony on a cassette tape, but when the case goes to trial — the very next day! — the tape is gone due to St. Charles Durning having stolen it. Without the tape of Zack explaining how Debbie is the one who committed the robbery, the district attorney has no case! (He can’t just put Zack on the stand and have him testify in person because, as you know, New York law only allows testimony to be given via cassette tape. It wasn’t until 2007 that MP3s were even allowed.)

In a last-ditch attempt to thwart the angels’ plan, Beasley disguises himself as a robber and takes Debbie hostage. Zack tries to rescue her and is shot and killed, but his final act of selflessness is enough for God to bring him back to life and spare the world from the flood. If you’re scoring along at home, that’s twice that John Travolta dies and is resurrected in this movie. Consider it a metaphor for his career, which, against all logic and reason, seems equally unstoppable.