Jul 16, 2020
Movie Duel: Indecent Proposal vs. Honeymoon in Vegas
Welcome back to Movie Duels, in which we watch two dueling movies and offer our eminently qualified opinion of which film, if any, has a reason for existing, and which one should have been left back at the pitch meeting.
Even if you’ve never seen 1993’s Indecent Proposal or are too young to remember the film’s initial release 25 years ago, you’ve surely heard of the movie and know its premise, wherein a rich man makes a scandalous offer to a married couple: he’ll pay one million dollars for the chance to sleep with the other man’s wife.
You likely know this premise because, beyond being a common topic of hypothetical discussion for all married couples (right after the “hall pass” stuff), it’s been referenced endlessly over the years, both satirically and not, in many other movies and TV shows any time a story involves a character being offered money to cheat, lie, or otherwise do something in a morally gray area.
But while “Indecent Proposal” has become accepted shorthand for the overall concept, everybody seems to have completely forgotten that 1992’s Honeymoon in Vegas did it first.
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It’s not a case of one film copying the other, because Indecent Proposal is based on a novel published in 1988, but Honeymoon in Vegas was the first to bring the idea to the big screen. And yet, you never hear Honeymoon in Vegas spoken of in the same way as Indecent Proposal, though that’s likely because Indecent Proposal was as much bigger hit, and also, its title is a whole lot more succinct and descriptive. Could you imagine asking your significant other, “Would you ever do a Honeymoon in Vegas on me?”
But this is a special case here at Movie Duels, because this might be the first instance ever of the moviegoing public being somewhat aware of the whole “dueling movies” scenario where similar films reach theaters around the same time. The Los Angeles Times even published a 1992 article noting the story parallels and musing on how two different films in production at the same time might have ended up sharing a premise.
Upon release, Indecent Proposal was mostly trashed by critics. It ended up winning Razzies for Worst Picture and Worst Screenplay that year, and Woody Harrelson also won for Worst Supporting Actor. Honeymoon in Vegas, on the other hand, earned generally good reviews, and was nominated for two comedy/musical Golden Globes: one for Best Picture, and one for Nicolas Cage as Best Actor. So when it comes to the critical response, Honeymoon in Vegas is the clear winner in this particular Movie Duel. But which movie is actually better? Thankfully, that’s what I’m here to decide.
Indecent Proposal was directed by Adrian Lyne (9 1/2 Weeks, Fatal Attraction) and stars Harrelson and Demi Moore as David and Diana, a married couple who are very much in love, and since this is an Adrian Lyne film, we know they’re very much in love because they have lots of great sex. But then they fall upon hard times when the recession hits and they both find themselves out of work and $50,000 in debt.
They of course do the perfectly rational thing: they head to Las Vegas to gamble their way out of their financial hole. This goes about the way you’d expect, as they win big and then lose it all at the roulette table when they put everything on red (as Harrelson’s previous co-star could have told them, always bet on black).
In the aftermath, Diana catches the eye of billionaire John Gage (Robert Redford), who’s currently playing high stakes baccarat at the same casino. He asks Diana to be his good luck charm as he moves to the craps table, where he hands her the dice and she wins him a million dollars. Under the guise of returning the favor, John gets the couple an expensive hotel room and invites them up to a fancy soiree in his penthouse suite.
Over a game of pool, John asks them if they believe money can buy love. They both scoff at the notion, prompting John to put forth his infamous proposition: He’ll give them a million dollars for one night with Diana. They both tell him to go to hell, and yet in bed that night, they can’t get the offer out of their minds. Eventually, they agree to the deal, but only after David’s attorney (Oliver Platt) comes out to Vegas to get it in writing.
And with that, Diana boards John’s helicopter and they head to his yacht, where it turns out Diana might actually be attracted to him too, because duh, he’s a billionaire and he looks like Robert Redford.
The next day, they get the money but things instantly turn sour; David is already beginning to become consumed by jealousy. Also, it seems the bank repossessed their house while they were in Vegas and someone has bought the property. Diana is outraged when she finds out John Gage is the buyer and goes to confront him, and David grows even more jealous when he learns she went to see him.
It doesn’t take long before David and Diana’s marriage is on the rocks, allowing John to stealthily move in. He endears himself to Diana in various ways, including taking her to his luxurious home where he relates a story about a missed opportunity with a woman in his youth who he still thinks about every single day. Yes, this movie has the enormous balls to rip off Bernstein’s speech from Citizen Kane about the girl with the white parasol, nearly copying a line or two verbatim in the process.
Eventually, Diana and John become a power couple, while David ends up a hopeless drunk. She serves David with divorce papers while telling him he can keep the million dollars. But David is able to turn his life around, and he shows up at a charity auction where Diana and John and his billionaire pals are apparently bidding on endangered animals. David buys a hippo for one million dollars, telling Diana he doesn’t want the money, and also, he’s agreeing to the divorce.
On the way home in his limo, John reveals to Diana that she’s the “best” of the “million-dollar club”, and his chauffeur confirms he made the one million dollar offer to at least two dozen women before her. Diana leaves him on the spot, but we find out John really only wanted to end things because he knows Diana will never look at him the way she looks at David. Diana runs back to David, they reconcile, end movie.
Indecent Proposal is a trashy movie to be sure, but it’s enjoyable trash. It’s rarely boring and it’s full of the kind of overwrought acting you expect from hokey melodramas, complete with all the wine bottles hurled against walls and dinner tables flipped over you could ever want. And the film is great to look at, thanks mostly to the lush cinematography, but Demi Moore in her prime wearing a series of revealing outfits doesn’t hurt, either.
I wouldn’t call it underrated, but if Indecent Proposal was, as the Razzies insist, the worst movie of 1993, then 1993 must have been a hell of a year for movies. The audiences certainly seemed to agree; it became the sixth highest grossing film that year.
But I can understand the motivation behind Woody Harrelson getting that Worst Supporting Actor Razzie. He’s definitely miscast here, but the real issue is that at the time, he was mainly known for playing a dimwitted bartender on Cheers. Had this role come a couple of years later, after Harrelson showed what he was capable of in Natural Born Killers and The People vs. Larry Flynt, his befuddled performance here probably would have passed without much notice.
And the story has its problems, to be sure. Why would David even agree to the deal in the first place? He should have already had an inkling that he’s the type who’s prone to fits of uncontrollable jealousy. Also, it’s a bit strange that we don’t even get so much as one scene of David or Diana spending their newfound riches before things go south. But if they had, I guess David wouldn’t have had the full million to blow on a hippo (and the movie tries to insist there’s some deep meaning to the whole hippo thing, complete with a flashback to David and Diana’s first date at the zoo, but it’s completely ridiculous). Ultimately, Indecent Proposal is a film that isn’t very good, but touched a cultural nerve about marital infidelity in much the same way as Lyne’s previous film Fatal Attraction.
Honeymoon in Vegas is a much different beast. It’s a purportedly zany comedy directed by Andrew Bergman (writer of Blazing Saddles and Fletch) starring Nicolas Cage as Jack Singer, a man who just can’t commit to his longtime girlfriend Betsy (Sarah Jessica Parker). This is explained via a silly intro where his dying mother (Anne Bancroft) makes him promise he’ll never love any other woman more than her.
But eventually, Jack gives in, and he and Betsy head to Las Vegas for a quickie wedding. But while sitting by the hotel pool, Betsy catches the eye of high roller Tommy Korman (James Caan), who thinks she’s the spitting image of his wife who recently died from skin cancer.
Tommy becomes obsessed with her, and invites Jack to a poker game which is really just a big setup that ends with Jack owing Tommy $65,000. So Tommy offers to forgive the gambling debt in exchange for one weekend with Betsy. Jack breaks the news to his fiancée and she’s at first appalled, but once she agrees to the deal, she’s all too willing to hop on a plane with this creepy stranger and fly to Hawaii.
A jealous Jack follows them to Hawaii and tries to track down Tommy, who gets his security guard to hire a taxi driver (Pat Morita) to take Jack on a time-wasting journey down to the home of Chief Orman (Peter Boyle), a “Hawaiian tribal chief” who spends hours singing songs from South Pacific.
Meanwhile, Tommy is telling Betsy blatant lies to drive a wedge between her and Jack, claiming that it was Jack’s idea to bet a weekend with his fiancée, and that the debt he owed was a mere $3,000. He then proposes to Betsy, and all it takes is Tommy saying he’s willing to have kids to get her to accept.
They fly right back to Vegas for the wedding. Jack chases them to California but is unable to find a commercial flight to Vegas, so he hitches a ride with a troupe of skydiving Elvis impersonators whose leader declares, “We’re the Flying Elvises, Utah chapter!” In a scene played endlessly in the trailers and TV spots, Jack dresses up like Elvis and parachutes into Vegas, just as Betsy gets an inkling that Tommy is a scumbag, and disguises herself as a showgirl to escape his clutches. The two are reunited and finally get to have their Vegas wedding, with all the various Elvis impersonators as witnesses.
As noted earlier, Honeymoon in Vegas was widely praised by critics at the time, but it’s easy to see why it’s barely remembered these days in contrast to Indecent Proposal: It’s a pretty lazy, sitcom-like effort that’s almost devoid of laughs. It takes eccentric characters and drops them into absurd situations, but forgets to give them anything funny to say or do, and no, Peter Boyle pretending to be Hawaiian and singing show tunes doesn’t count. This is the kind of movie that thinks it’s absolutely hysterical to present a nonstop coterie of Elvis impersonators of all ethnicities and ages. Look, an Asian Elvis, hilarious! And look, here’s another Asian Elvis, hilariouser! And hey, here’s “Little Elvis”—oh my sides! (Fun fact: Little Elvis is played by six year old Bruno Hernandez, better known these days as pop star Bruno Mars.)
And while Nicolas Cage might get a little shouty here and there, we’re denied the unintentional hilarity of a manic, frenzied Cage along the lines of Vampire’s Kiss or Deadfall. He gives, at best, a serviceable performance here, as does James Caan. Meanwhile, Sarah Jessica Parker’s Betsy is little more than a prop. So was Demi Moore’s Diana to an extent, but it’s far worse here; Betsy does nothing besides wear sexy outfits, play the stereotypical nagging ball-and-chain, and shift her loyalties on a dime based on whichever guy wants to marry her and make babies.
I can only assume the movie was nominated for Golden Globes due to the previous track record of Cage, Caan, director Bergman, et al, because in no other way is this an award-worthy movie. It would appear this is a film that was judged at the time solely by who’s in it, and not by its actual content, which is rather forgettable.
There’s not a whole lot to compare and contrast in this particular Movie Duel, because the movies in question are completely different in tone; Indecent Proposal is an overblown romantic melodrama, while Honeymoon in Vegas is a purported screwball comedy. Even the initial premise isn’t quite the same; a briefcase full of a million dollars is a far cry from a $65,000 debt and results in very different repercussions. And the plot point where the wife/fianceé suddenly becomes more enamored of the rich guy is totally understandable; there wouldn’t be much of a movie if the couple accepted the offer and then went on with their lives afterwards as if nothing happened.
I’d say the only eerie commonality here is how the city of Las Vegas plays a pivotal role in both stories; but I suppose Sin City is the only place where audiences would believably expect these kinds of shady transactions to go down.
Which one needs to exist?
For sure, Indecent Proposal is the only one of these two I’d ever entertain the notion of watching again. And guess which one got a sequel? Actually, neither, but Honeymoon in Vegas inexplicably got adapted into a 2014 Broadway musical (with Tony Danza in the James Caan role) which didn’t even last six months before closing.
But truth be told, I’d much rather watch one of those numerous sitcom takeoffs of Indecent Proposal than sit through either of these movies again.