Perhaps the most memorable scene of Roxanne occurs when Fire Department Chief C.D. Bales (Steve Martin) finds himself being ridiculed at a bar by some Joe Schmo with nothing better to do than take shots at our lovable protagonist.
He calls Bales “Big Nose,” something you’ll notice Bales possesses fairly quickly. But instead of going to the stereotypical, excessive bar fight, the scene becomes a celebration of cleverness. Bales asks the man to throw a dart at the dart board, and whatever number he hits will be the number of insults Bales will rattle off that the guy could have used. The man scores 20, and Bales rifles off a slew of insults—“it must be wonderful to wake up and smell the coffee in Brazil!”—which set the tone of the film and show Bales as something of an endearing town outcast.
Aside from reminding us of Steve Martin’s remarkable talent (he had stopped doing stand-up by this point), the bar scene also exposes a critical theme of Roxanne: the triumph of wit over muscle and smarts over looks. This is the basis for the plot, a romantic comedy chronicling the stalled love life of Roxanne (Daryl Hannah). She wants an intelligent, sensitive man (i.e. Bales) but can’t help being attracted by handsome, dumb types like Chris (Rick Rossovich), a new firefighter working under Bales.
Roxanne makes it no secret to certain connected members in the small town of Sun Valley that she wants to date Chris. Except Chris has the problem of not being able to talk to women at all. Literally, he has to run away and vomit if something slightly positive happens. Chris’s “lack of game” leads to the Chief writing letters as if he were Chris, since he only wants Roxanne to be happy, even if it’s not with him.
Consequently, Roxanne falls in love with a hybrid of the two: Chris’s body and the Chief’s mind. With great one-liners and a strong, if somewhat rare lead performance by Martin, comedy ensues.
The movie also works for nostalgia, as actors like Fred Willard, Kevin Nealon and Damon Wayans all excel in their bit parts. But Martin remains the star, carrying a great romantic comedy with deeper issues than might catch the eye… or even the nose.