Volume 91, Issue 45

Wednesday, November 19, 1997



The film with too little

By Sara Falconer
Gazette Staff

In the past few years the art of comedy seems to have caught a nasty bug. Both popular television and shows on the big screen are overcome by a new wave of formula-dependent, utterly humourless productions. Witness, for example, the excruciatingly slow and painful death of the once-brilliant Saturday Night Live. Admittedly, some shows like Seinfeld prove that all is not yet lost, but when was the last time there was a truly funny mainstream movie?

Now, as the genre languishes on its sickbed, even the involvement of a comedic icon like Bill Murray can not guarantee a film will be amusing.

In the new spy spoof, The Man Who Knew Too Little, Murray plays Wallace Ritchie, an American who travels to London to surprise his brother. Unfortunately, James (Peter Gallagher), is hosting an important business dinner on the night Wally arrives and doesn't think the obnoxious Blockbuster employee will fit in with his clients. He arranges to have Wally entertained for a few hours in the "Theatre of Life," an experimental acting troupe which involves its audience in an improvised crime adventure on the city's streets.

Of course, Wally is in the wrong place at the wrong time and becomes involved in a real crime, all the while believing it is part of his theatre experience. Two Russian and British diplomats are conspiring to restart the profitable Cold War and must commit a number of dastardly deeds before midnight – when a bomb they planted will go off at a peace treaty signing. Wally, who they think is their hitman, receives instructions from a phone booth to kill the requisite beautiful woman, Lori (Joanne Whalley-Kilmer). Lori convinces Wally to join her and they escape, followed closely by the real killer and various other bad guys.

Of course, Wally manages to thwart the evil schemes, partly because of his conviction that he has nothing to fear and partly because of his clumsiness. How many times are movie-goers to be subjected to this tired slapstick-routine device?

This stale, mistaken-identity story is based on Robert Farrar's novel Watch That Man. Obviously, this film demonstrates the all-too-true adage that the book is always better than its Hollywood version.

The Man Who Knew Too Little has some redeeming moments, especially in its last half hour, but overall it tends to drag. Director Jon Amiel relies too heavily on the fundamental funniness of Bill Murray to carry the action through some pretty weak scenes.

Murray is an extremely talented actor, but even he can only do so much with dry material. It's not that the humour is too low brow – it's just that it's so predictable. The few jokes actually worth a laugh are beaten mercilessly to death.

Hollywood films, in general, are becoming shallow. The Man Who Knew Too Little is another in a recent string of movies which indicate that such comedies aren't worth the time and effort it takes to watch them.

To Contact The Arts and Entertainment Department: gazent@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright The Gazette 1997