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The Bottom Shelf #117

07.19.2007

It's a mystery to me how movies certain movies get made. How at this point in our evolution, we still try to mine humour in crap that's just a boring fact of life these days. But hey, I don't watch TV, so I don't know what's supposed to be "funny" these days. I only know that I discovered these movies to be quite amusing using a tried and true avenue of comedy.

THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO LITTLE (1997)
Directed by: Jon Amiel
Starring: Bill Murray, Joanne Whalley

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I've previously moaned about the nature of the MPAA, a system designed to police the movie industry and make sure that the right movies are being watched by the right demographics. Most of the time movies are graded too harshly based on a biased system of what is supposedly offensive about the big no-nos: Sex, Violence and Drug Use. But what do you do with a movie that really has none of these? When the violence is accidental and cartoonish in nature and the characters are going through a set of jokes that while clean, aren't going to appeal to people that the movie's rating says that it will most appeal to. Granted, I understand that there is nothing barring adults from watching PG rated movies, but the majority of the time those movies get unfairly labeled as being "family" fare when only the more mature members of the family are actually going to "get" it.

The story here is simple and should be appreciated by everyone. A goof-ball of a man goes to visit his banker brother in England, showing up on his doorstep unannounced. Since the brother (the always excellent Peter Gallagher) is supposed to be hosting an important business dinner in his home, he pays to have his brother participate in a "real life" stage play where he's supposed to have a role, deliver impromptu lines and interact with other actors. However, the wrong phone call is picked up, creating a comedy of mistaken identity. Murray believes that he is truly participating in a setup while everyone around him is impressed with what they believe are his real life secret agent skills.

I remember when this movie came out. I was disappointed in the direction of Murray's career (he'd done LARGER THAN LIFE the year before) and after some dismal reviews of the film, I simply steered clear and then forgot about it. After being repeatedly told that it wasn't the movie that everyone assumed it was, coupled with the fact that I've been watching movies that I'd previously loved to discover they were crap, I thought that I'd give the movie a shot and determine if my preconceived notions were off base. And boy were they ever. This movie is far from perfect, its main problem being that when you're not laughing uproariously, you're just sitting back and waiting for something funny to happen again. But the laughs are full and frequent enough to satisfy the adults that this movie is meant for, especially those of us who loved Murray from his SNL days. Just as the R rating has a oft misleading reputation, the PG rating carries one as well. This is more a movie for the grownups who are looking for more intelligent humour that happens to be silly. PG far too often represents stupid humour that just is free of language, sex and blood. Pity.

Favorite Scene:

Any of the times that Murray is conferring with the police chiefs via the communicator in the cigarette case.

Favorite Line:

"Sorry if I get a little bit insensitive, but I'm a hitman!

Trivia Tidbit:

In a scene in the hotel, a character is shown watching Jon Amiel's earlier film, COPYCAT. This is even more amusing when you factor in that Murray and the star of COPYCAT, Sigourney Weaver, were co-stars in both of the GHOSTBUSTERS movies. Towards the end of the movie there is a GB connection, when a character is referred to as "Venkman," the name of Murray's character in that franchise.

See if you liked:

WHO'S HARRY CRUMB?, SPIES LIKE US, QUICKCHANGE

WITHOUT A CLUE (1988)
Directed by: Thom Eberhardtr
Starring: Ben Kingsley, Michael Caine

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Ah, the plight of the PG rated flick. I know that I've already gone on and on about the problem with the ratings given out by the MPAA and the stupidity of the general public in judging a film based solely on its rating as well. (Hey, I judge on the ratings too, just not solely on them). This is another one of the movies which holds a great lesson about not judging a film as being family fodder due to those two letters attached at the bottom of its poster. In fact, it happens to be another movie which is better suited to adults who might be more familiar with the story of Sherlock Holmes.

That's not to say that WITHOUT A CLUE follows the plot outline as laid out by Doyle. The movie has fun tweaking the concept, turning Dr John Watson into the smart sleuth who is unrecognized behind the character of Sherlock Holmes. In this story, Holmes really IS a character, one that Watson designed to keep from getting into trouble for sleuthing while he was waiting to see if he would get an appointment to a conservation medical board. In the end, he is forced into making Holmes materialize and decides to hire an out of work actor with gambling, drinking and womanizing problems.

Having two respected actors in these roles helps add a great deal to what is a weak storyline. The plates for pressing the English five pound note have been stolen and the two men have to track down where they are and who is responsible for their disappearance. The movie isn't really about that though. There is more fun to be had in watching the men interact with one another. This is one of the few PG movies that you'll find where the dialog greatly exceeds what most people expect from this type of movie. Subversive bits of humour that you don't catch onto for a couple of beats combined with two actors who are having a ball playing these characters. It all adds up to a fun night, where the adults can relax and giggle in peace after the kids have fallen asleep from boredom.

Favorite Scene:

The discovery of Leslie Giles... the REAL Leslie Giles.

Favorite Line:

"Mambo, mamba. What's the difference?">
"Well, very little, except that one is a deadly, poisonous snake, while the other is a rather festive Carribean dance."

Trivia Tidbit:

Director Eberhardt was also at the helm of the brilliant cult flick NIGHT OF THE COMET.

See if you liked:

DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS, DEATH TRAP, EDUCATING RITA

As I was writing this, all kinds of noise erupted in my house, causing my brain to shrink away to an even smaller sized nut than the normal walnut. Pardon me while I slink out the back door and attempt to escape the madness and regain my sanity.

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