It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
I think about the twists and loops of the plot in “Getting Away With Murder” and, yes, I can see how it could have been a good comedy--a dark, ironic one, but funny. But then I think about the subject matter, and my heart sinks. Here is a film that tries to find comedy in the Holocaust, and it looks in the wrong places, in the wrong way, and becomes a sad embarrassment.
I know that anything can be funny. I remember the “Springtime for Hitler” production number from Mel Brooks' “The Producers” (1968) and I smile even after 29 years. But humor depends on tone, on timing and even on taste, and when a comedy starts on the wrong foot, it is hard to regain balance.
“Getting Away With Murder” tells the story of an ethics professor named Lambert (Dan Aykroyd), who lives next door to a kindly old man named Mueller (Jack Lemmon). Lambert plays drums in a local Dixieland band, and one night in a club he meets Gail (Bonnie Hunt), who likes his drumming, and him. A few nights later, they Meet Cute again, when Gail, a doctor, treats his wounds after a fight. There's chemistry. They fall in love. Meanwhile, the FBI comes calling, because it suspects that Mueller may in fact be Karl Luger, the Beast of Berkau, a fugitive Nazi war criminal responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands. (Warning: I am now going to discuss plot points.) Lambert can't believe it at first, but convincing evidence is presented. Then Mueller/Luger is freed on a technicality. The ethics professor, deeply affronted that this monster can walk free, poisons the apples on his tree, and the old man eats one, and dies. Then it appears (the warning still applies) that the old man was innocent after all. Lambert decides to make moral amends, punishing himself by calling off his marriage to Gail, and again by marrying Mueller's rather pathetic daughter, Inga (Lily Tomlin). And then ... but I will give away no more, as the plot zigs and zags to its conclusion.
“Getting Away With Murder” is a black comedy, yes, but not a deep one, with a savage message that might justify its subject. It wants basically to be an evening's entertainment at your local theater. And that is why I find it inexcusable that the Lemmon character was made into a death camp commandant.
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