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"The Man Who Knew Too Little" "See This!" - by Andrew Llewellyn (New Zealand)

From the Web 1.0 days I bring you The Forum. To preserve them for posterity as Geocities can no longer be found but also it's fun to re-read some of them.

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24th September, 2001

The Man Who Knew Too Little

USA, 1997
Director: Jon Amiel
With: Bill Murray, Joanne Whalley, Alfred Molina, Peter Gallagher.
Running Time: 1 hour 33 minutes
Tagline: The International Intelligence community is about to get a whole lot less intelligent.

Murray is Wallace Ritchie, an American paying a surprise to his successful businessman brother in London.

Trouble is, he turns up on the very night his brother James (Gallagher) is hosting a huge business dinner for a bunch of German would-be clients. And knowing his brother is an embarrassing idiot, Gallagher arranges for Murray to take part in The Theatre of Life. A 3.5 hour theatre-participation production that allows you to be the action hero in your own James Bond adventure.

Complications ensue when Wallace misses his Theatre of Life instructions, and receives a call intended for a real hitman called Spencer, while the hitman gets the call intended for Wallace. The Theatre of Life people get a major surprise when they pull a fake gun on the supposed client.

Wallace is sent to a house, he is supposed to kill the woman he finds there, Lori (Whalley, dressed in a very small maid's outfit.) He also meets & inadvertently blackmails the UK Secretary of Defence. Remember, he thinks everyone is an actor.

A lot of the humour comes from Wallace's frantic phone calls to his brother, which are always contrived to be on speakerphone, in front of the clients, and when he arrives mid dinner with Whalley, announcing he's got the Secretary of Defence's call girl & "My brother paid for it all!" before announcing they're off to blackmail some important people with some sleazy letters. But it's OK, the Germans are told he works in the movie business.

Through a series of accidents, Wallace bests all those set against him, and the KGB, & MI5 start to suspect they have a superspy on the loose.

It's a comedy of misunderstandings. Following investigation of a shooting incident at the Theatre of Life, Scotland Yard initiate an ant-terrorist raid on James' dinner party. James isn't there however, he's rushed off "to get port", which causes all of Britain's ports to be sealed to stop him skipping the country.

There's a priceless scene where Wallace mistakes a poor little old British lady dressed in Nazi uniform, whipping her elderly husband in the privacy of their own home (these Brits eh?), for the evil German lady-doctor he's been expecting to turn up to torture him. In fact, it's poor James who gets tortured - although the oblivious Wallace, when he's told, imagines he got a gentle whipping too (it was actually something quite unsavoury involving electricity & exposed body parts).

The movie culminates in a showdown with the various forces chasing the letters. It's an energetic Cossack dance sequence in which Wallace performs an amazing array of starjumps and the like, while tossing one of those funny little Russian dolls around like an American football - it contains a bomb, set to go off any moment.

This is a pretty bog standard James Bond parody, complete with beautiful femme fatale, KGB heavies, and assorted corrupt politicians. It works, because Murray is so damned funny, and Gallagher is a good straight man. There's an array of familiar UK faces in supporting roles to liven things up - notably Alfred Molina as a starstruck KGB operative on Wallace's trail.

It's a one-gag movie, but that gag is well sustained. Much of it is predictable (as soon as you see the old dear in the Nazi regalia, you KNOW what's coming...) but that doesn't hurt a bit. Well worth a look, for a movie I'd never even heard of & took a punt on based purely on the tagline & the presence of Whalley (we really don't see enough of her these days).

Also seen recently, well worth catching, and may even be covered here at some stage:
Bowfinger - Steve Martin/Eddie Murphy film within a film comedy. Heather Graham steals the movie as a character supposedly based on Ann Heche
State & Main - William H Macy/Phillip Seymour Hoffman film within a film comedy. Hollywood crew meets small town Vermont, with predicatable & unpredictable results. Great dialogue.

Gripes & accolades can be sent to apllewellyn@yahoo.com

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