Writer Larry Donner (Crystal), suffering from severe writer's block, has taken to teaching writing to aspiring (if not necessarily talented) would-be writers, and thus meets simpleton Owen Lift (DeVito). Larry is wracked with jealous rage over his ex-wife Margaret (Kate Mulgrew), who became a world-famous author after stealing his book and publishing it as her own. Owen, meanwhile, fantasizes about offing his abusive Momma (Anne Ramsey).
After being instructed by Larry to see some Hitchcock films to help him learn how to write murder mysteries, Owen comes to believe Larry was secretly sending him a message to exchange murders after watching Strangers on a Train: Owen is to kill Margaret, and Larry is to kill Owen's monstrous mother. Larry becomes entwined with the idiot "couch potato" when he goes on the lam from being a major suspect in Margaret's murder, since Owen failed to tell him of his intent and didn't allow Larry to create an alibi.
Anne Ramsey earned an Academy Award nomination for her role as Momma, and passed away a year later.
"Throw Momma from the Tropes":
- Adaptation Decay: An in-universe example of Owen's new book. A children's pop-up book version of the events of the movie.
- Affectionate Parody
- Ambiguous Innocence: Owen's a really naive Manchild, but he is eerily casual about murdering a complete stranger.
- Arc Words: "Criss cross!"
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: After Larry tells Beth that Margaret has been killed, Beth says that she feels nauseous. Larry's reply:Larry: Oh, great. Margaret's dead, I have no alibi, and now you're mad because I've upset your stomach.
- Asshole Victim:
- Larry's ex-wife, Margaret. Ultimately subverted in that she didn't die.
- Momma's not much better, being at best abusive of Owen. However, she's also suffering dementia. Also subverted, because while she does die, it's from natural causes.
- Aww, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: Despite being My Beloved Smother, Momma really does love Owen. For example, when Owen manages to clear her ear canal (after fantasizing about shoving a pair of scissors through her brain, of course), she coos, "Owen! My little baby! My little baby!" During the final sequence, Owen decides he doesn't want Larry to kill her. It's never outright stated in the film, but Momma may be suffering severe dementia, and Owen - who isn't the brightest bulb in the box - is struggling to cope with it.
- Bedroom Adultery Scene: Owen is hiding behind the couch upon which Margaret and Mr. Lopez are having sex...and takes the time to flip through an issue of Us Magazine. The phone rings, and Owen pushes it to where the oblivious Margaret can reach it leading to...
- Berserk Button: Larry has many of them, including any mention of his wife becoming famous. It's even a Running Gag that he uses the Insistent Terminology that she's his Ex-wife. EX-WIFE. Another one is plagiarism — rather justified because of the aforementioned issue. He even immediately changes the way that he describes that It Was a Dark and Stormy Night in the book he's trying to write (and we spend a long scene seeing him trying to decide which word to use) when it turns out that Owen starts his own story using the same word. The film even briefly segues into a near-Here We Go Again! when he discovers that Owen also made a book based on their experiences in the film, until Owen shows him that it's a children's book with a wholly different ending.
- Brick Joke: Mr. Pinsky, a student in Larry's creative writing class, creates a controversy in the class due to his planned coffee table book, titled '100 Girls I'd like to Pork'. The other students argue about it and Larry says that it 'isn't literature.' When the students are being interrogated by the police over Larry's possible involvement in Margaret's disappearance, Pinsky's police offer is too busy looking at his book ("It's a coffee table book", Pinsky explains.) Right at the end of the movie, we see Mr. Pinsky's published coffee table book sitting on Larry's desk.
- Buffy Speak / Department of Redundancy Department:
- Mrs. Hazeltine's bad writing results in a less-than-descriptive short story.Mrs. Hazeltine: "Dive! Dive!" yelled the Captain through the thing! So the man who makes it dive pressed a button, or a something, and it dove. And, the enemy was foiled again. "Looks like we foiled them again," said Dave. "Yeah," said the Captain. "We foiled those bastards again. Didn't we, Dave." "Yeah," said Dave. The End.
- Owen's murder mystery always involves "one guy in the hat trying to kill the other guy in the hat."
- Mrs. Hazeltine's bad writing results in a less-than-descriptive short story.
- Butt-Monkey: The universe is not kind to Larry. His ex-wife gets rich off a story she stole from him, he's stuck in a dead-end job teaching a creative writing class to the worst aspiring authors out there, gets wrangled into a crime due to his student's stupidity, and suffers all kinds of pain and humiliation along the way. As if to illustrate this point, Momma hangs her shawl up on a basement door that's been rigged to fall and send her tumbling to her death down the stairs, and even knocks on it for good measure, to no effect. But when Larry tests it out, it collapses immediately and sends him hurling down the stairs!
- The Cameo:
- Cane Fu: Momma uses her cane to good effect beating up Larry.
- Catch-Phrase:Pinsky: It's.. a coffee table book.
Larry: That's it, and that's all!
- Central Theme: Trains appear constantly in the film.
- The Chew Toy: Larry and Owen both.
- Coitus Uninterruptus: Owen interrupts Larry and Beth's lovemaking on a kid's train.
- Larry also busts in on his best friend Lester in bed with a girl he picked up, a "Mrs. Gladstone". Humorously, Lester's date destroys Larry's alibi, since she just happens to be a stewardess.
- Comically Missing the Point: And how. Owen gets the wrong message when Larry tells him to go see a Hitchcock movie. In fact, the first thing Owen says when Larry suggests it is to brightly ask like a happy puppy, "You wanna go to the movies with me?"
- Contrived Coincidence: Larry suggests that Owen go see a Hitchcock film to better understand how mystery/thriller stories are written. Owen does so the very next day, and Strangers on a Train just happens to be the film that is playing.
- Crazy-Prepared: Owen surprisingly had the foresight to purchase his plane ticket to Hawaii in Larry's name, thus preventing Larry from using the ticket as evidence against Owen.
- Determinator: Owen and Momma.
- Disappeared Dad: Owen lost his father when he was still a kid, and it apparently left a pretty big hole. The revelation comes during a rather touching scene where Owen shows off his "coin collection," consisting of the loose change his father let him keep when they would go on recreational outings.
- The Ditz: Owen drifts into this territory several times.
- Evil Old Folks: Momma to the End. Aversion: see Reality Is Unrealistic. She's also an Evil Matriarch.
- Excuse Me While I Multitask: Margaret is able to have sex and carry on an intelligent telephone conversation with her agent at the same time.
- Fantasy Sequence:
- Owen imagines killing his mother several times over the course of the movie, with poisoned soda, with scissors through her ears, and by bowling.
- Larry has a fantasy of strangling his wife. He then imagines he's strangling himself.
- Femme Fatale: Margaret.
- Five-Second Foreshadowing: Owen's book Mama and Owen and Owen's Friend Larry ends with the trio having a picnic in a park. Cut to Larry, Owen and Beth having a picnic on the beach.
- Frying Pan of Doom: Oh, yes.
- Gainax Ending: In-Universe, the way Larry ends his book Throw Momma From the Train: "Fate makes you impotent, love makes you crazy, somewhere in the middle you can survive."Owen: It's cryptic!note
- Gosh Dang It to Heck!: One of Larry's students who overheard Larry screaming, "That slut! I hate her, I wish she was dead!" tells the police, "He called her a very bad name, and screamed, 'I hate her, I wish she were dead.'"
- Groin Attack: "She's not a woman. She's The Terminator."
- Homage: Another to Alfred Hitchcock: Owen is Norman Bates, except his oppressive mother is actually alive.
- Intentionally Awkward Title: The title of Owen's pop-up book: Mama and Owen and Owen's Friend Larry
- I Should Write a Book About This: The epilogue shows that Larry decided to write a fictional account of the movie's events, titled Throw Momma From The Train. Owen makes one as well, Mama and Owen and Owen's Friend Larry, which is significantly Lighter and Softer (it ends with the three of them having a picnic in the park, for example).
- It Was a Dark and Stormy Night: All of Larry's attempts to write during his writer's block start "The night was..."
- Jerkass: Momma and Margaret.
- Karma Houdini:
- Larry's ex-wife gets away with stealing his book, and all the accolades with it, and at the end is set to make more money with the story of how she survived falling off the ship. Larry's victory is simply that he learns to stop obsessing over her, which lets him write another great book. (Then again, her success may not last; she seems intent on milking the book for all it's worth, ie. benefiting from the film rights, but it's tough to follow an act that wasn't yours in the first place, and now that Larry's found success he would have an easier time proving she stole his work. Adding to that, even if Larry weren't successful in writing a new book, Margaret's plan still has 2 fatal flaws in it. 1: She's blowing through the money faster than you could say "bankruptcy", without a plan to make more once the hype of "her" book dies down. And 2: She keeps constantly saying in interviews that she not only has an ex-husband who was also a writer, but one in the same genre who has been published before, meaning sooner or later people are going to read Larry's work and find out they're a little too similar. It's not even wishful thinking to conclude that Margaret's only a Karma Houdini because of where the movie ended.)
- A straighter example is Larry's literary agent, who knew Maragret stole his book and signed her as a new client — then after the In-Universe book Throw Momma From the Train, he's once again Larry's agent.
- Large Ham: Momma. Between this and The Goonies we can see that Anne Ramsey surely loves chewing the scenery.
- Lawful Stupid: Larry. He is so sensitive about plagiarism, he changes his story from "The night was humid." to "The night was moist." when he discovers Owen started his writing assignment the same way. Probably justified, in that his hateful ex-wife stole his novel, passed it off as her own and it became a bestseller, which would be enough to give anyone a complex about the subject.
- Life Will Kill You: How Momma ultimately dies.
- Loners Are Freaks: Owen. He gets better when he has friends in the end.
- Made of Iron: Larry gets abused during the film, including getting hit over the head with a frying pan, getting his nuts crushed by a cane, tumbling violently down a flight of stairs, and pushed off a moving train. Momma even thinks he's dead after falling down the stairs!
- Mood Whiplash: A lot of it. One example has a depressed Owen talking about how evil he is for killing Margaret, then brightly exclaiming "Cows!" when he sees a dairy billboard.Larry: [listening to the news] Oh, poor, poor, Margaret... that SLUT! SLUT! SHE IS A SLUT SLUT!... I'm gonna fry!
- My Beloved Smother: And HOW.
- No Antagonist: Margaret and Momma are just MacGuffins; the plot revolves around Larry learning to get over the past and Owen learning to cope with his mother.
- No Empathy: When Larry accidentally springs the trap set for Momma Lift, falls down the stairs and presumably dies. She merely says "Pain in the ass!" and walks away. Then when Owen finds Larry and mourns him, Momma mocks Owen, calls him a crybaby and tells him to bury Larry in the yard before he stinks up the place.
- No Indoor Voice: Larry yells in this film. A lot. As does Momma.
- The Paranoiac: Momma, thanks to her dementia. In separate occasions, she thinks Owen's book writing are "letters to her" or to have people come to "take her away".
- Pet the Dog: Momma shows some sincere affection towards Owen and calls him her "baby boy" after he cleans out her ears (in another failed attempt to kill her).
- Plagiarism in Fiction: A whole lot of the plot happens because Larry's ex-wife stole his completed pamphlet and managed to become rich and famous with it.
- Precision F-Strike: Mr. Pinsky's book was titled, "100 Girls I'd Like To Fuck". It was changed to "Pork" in ADR to get the film a PG-13 rating and avoid an R rating (Billy Crystal is very clearly mouthing the word "Fuck" when he reads the title).
Larry: Fuck it! (typing) "The night... was... humid!" That's it, and that's all! (big sigh)note
- One did manage to make the final cut of the film, though:
- Product Placement: There are several obvious close-up shots of brand names throughout the film, including a Zenith TV remote (when Larry turns on the TV to see Margaret on Oprah), Scotch tape (when Larry starts putting tape on his face out of boredom), and a Pepsi bottle (during Owen's aborted attempt to poison Momma).
- Psychopathic Man Child: Owen is definitely a Man Child, but he is also willing to kill.
- Reality Is Unrealistic: Momma's behavior may seem extreme and unrealistic, but many older people do get paranoid and harsh in their later years for the same fears Momma has.
- Recycled IN SPACE: Strangers on a Train AS A SELF-REFERENTIAL COMEDY!
- Rhetorical Request Blunder: Owen overhears Larry saying he wished his wife were dead. Guess what happens. To be fair, Owen doesn't get the idea to kill Margeret until Larry tells him to go to the Hitchcock films being screened at a local theater (to understand how a mystery novel works), and goes on about how his characters have no motivation to commit murder. Unfortunately, for Larry, one of the films being screened is Strangers on a Train, which is all about murder motives, and Owen thinks Larry intentionally wanted him to see that particular film which is very close to their current situation.
- Screw Politeness, I'm a Senior!: Who else?, Momma.
- Senior Creep: Momma, whom Owen wants to kill for this very reason. She even provides the page image.
- Strangers on a Train: The whole plot happens because Owen decides to copy the murder method of the film, without understanding the importance of the "strangers" part of the plot (or anything else, for that matter).
- A Tale of Two Cities. Larry on the train talks to Owen about the perfect beginning of a novel and mentions A Tale Of Two Cities, "It was the best of times it was the worst of times..." Momma late in the film gives Larry a perfect opening for his abortive novel, "The night was sultry". This is a variation of the line, "The night was so very sultry" from A Tale Of Two Cities.
- Small Name, Big Ego: Mrs. Hazeltine, who lashes at one writing student that he's "a no talent little shit". She's completely oblivious to her own pathetically bad writing skills.Larry: And your metaphors... "His face oozed nice like a melted malted"...
Mrs. Hazeltine: Too harsh?
Larry: A tad.
- Stalker with a Crush: Owen, and how.note
- "Strangers on a Train"-Plot Murder: The entire plot revolves around Owen being inspired by the actual film to kill Larry's ex-wife in exchange that Larry kill his mother. Roger Ebert even noted that while stealing from other movies was common, this one was at least blatantly honest about it.
- Suspect Is Hatless: While the Trope is played straight in Owen's murder mystery, said murderer is ironically described as wearing a hat.
- This is No Time to Panic: Spoken by Owen after Momma recognizes Larry as the chief suspect in Margaret's murder.Larry: This is the PERFECT time to panic!
- Title Drop: The name of Larry's novel is Throw Momma from the Train.
- Titled After the Song: It's a play on the awkwardly-worded chorus of the 1956 Patti Page song "Mama from the Train".Throw mama from the train a kiss, a kiss
Wave mama from the train a goodbye
Throw mama from the train a kiss, a kiss
And don't cry, my baby, don't cry
- Tranquil Fury: "Where are you going?" "I'm gonna kill the bitch. You want anything?"note
- Unspoken Plan Guarantee: Beth thinks Larry had one with Owen.Beth: What did you say? "Please don't kill my wife, wink wink?"
- What an Idiot!: In-Universe, Larry's literary agent blames Larry for not telling anyone about the book he was writing, making it easy for Margaret to steal it.
- What You Are in the Dark: Larry's dream about killing Margaret near the end of the film.
- Owen frequently has opportunity to either kill his mother, or allow Larry to do it. Invariably, he chooses not to, always out of concern for her.
- Whole Plot Reference: Strangers on a Train.