By People Staff
November 15, 1982 12:00 PM

For the first 15 minutes or so, it looks as if Bette Midler’s comedy follow-up to her Oscar-nominated dramatics in The Rose might just die on the vine. The premise is certainly limp: Midler is a would-be Vegas lounge singer shacked up with gambler Rip Torn, who slaps her around when he’s not putting a jinx on blackjack dealer Ken Wahl that seems to compel Wahl to deal winning hands. If that sounds like strange comedy on paper, rest assured it doesn’t play any clearer on screen. What does play, and gloriously, is Bette. As soon as she and Wahl become lovers and devise a screwball plan to bump off Torn, Jinxed switches gears into farce and gives Midler the spotlight, which she occupies as if by divine right. In a new blond hairstyle to match her brassy manner, Midler comes off as a wiggly, sexier version of Lucille Ball. Only a cunning black cat named Angus comes close to stealing a scene from her. Surviving Bert Blessing and David Newman’s script, Don (Dirty Harry) Siegel’s direction and Vilmos Zsigmond’s often unflattering photography, Bette plugs her personality into this lifeless comedy, and the energy flows. One long sequence, in which she harangues Tom’s corpse for his five years of abuse, is a howl, and Torn, who manages to overact even as a dead body, at least captures some semblance of Midler’s frisky spirit. Wahl, Paul Newman’s rookie partner in Fort Apache, the Bronx, is attractive, but he appears here basically as window dressing. Bette—wild, witty and wicked—is the whole show. She is one of the few performers around today whose presence alone is enough to justify the price of admission. (R)