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The Man Who Knew Too Little

(This review originally appeared in the November 13-19, 19978 Long Island Voice.)

Reviewed by Beth Hannan Rimmels

Bill Murray and Alfred Hitchcock — what a mind-boggling combination. But Murray’s latest film, The Man Who Knew Too Little, is a comic riff on Hitch’s "average man thrust into spy machinations" plots such as North By Northwest and — obviously — The Man Who Knew Too Much.

Murray plays Wallace "Wally" Ritchie, a bumbling, clueless but nice Blockbuster employee from Iowa who decides to surprise his high-finance brother James (Peter Gallagher) by visiting him in London. But, James is supposed to entertain, and impress, some rather stuffy but important business people, so Wally has to be kept busy for the night. Since Wally always wanted to act, James buys him a "ticket" to London’s latest craze, Theater of Life. The show takes audience participation to the next level by thrusting a participant, in this case Wally, into an action-packed story that takes place all over London.

The show is supposed to start when Wally gets a call at a phone booth from a "hooker" across the street who needs to be rescued from her "pimp." But Wally, not knowing the plot, gets to the phone booth early and intercepts a phone call for an assassin. Thinking it’s part of the show, he proceeds to the address given where he hooks up with Lorelei (Joanne Whalley), who has been seeing the Defense Minister and has some incriminating letters. The real-life spy plot also includes British and Russian intelligence counterparts who are plotting to blow up the signing of an Anglo-Russian treaty, thereby reigniting the Cold War and making themselves relevant again. Ever in the dark, Wally stumbles closer and closer into the conspiracy and through dumb luck manages to elude or subdue all the attempts to kill him

The movie starts off a bit slow and the initial introduction of Theater of Life seems to come from left field, but once the plot gets rolling, the laughs come regularly. Like Stripes, The Man Who Knew Too Little is wildly over the top at times. The problem is sometimes it’s not over the top enough at other times. Seeing how far Murray can go before he realizes people are using real bullets is amusing. I especially loved KGB killer Boris the Butcher, who becomes convinced that Wally is nearly superhuman due to his ability to evade them. But Wally is no substitute for Peter Venkman in Ghostbusters or Phil in Groundhog Day. All in all, a mildly enjoyable film but not one you’ll rush to recommend.

(A Warner Bros. release. Directed by Jon Amiel.)


Review 1997 Beth Hannan Rimmels. Accompanying photographs  1997 Warner Bros.




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