It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
I would be tempted to say "The Distinguished Gentleman" paints a jaundiced view of lobbyists and bribery in Washington, if the latest headlines didn't make the movie seem almost soft on payola. The story involves a Florida con man (Eddie Murphy) who finds a way to get elected to Congress, and speeds off to the nation's capital to get rich quick. He finds that an easy thing to do.
The film is like a Capra movie where the early cynicism isn't just sketched in, it's plastered on. Murphy lounges around his Florida digs with a sexy cousin (Sheryl Lee Ralph) and assorted sidekicks, pulling scams on the gullible public. The most entertaining is his private phone-sex racket, where he blackmails the customers who dial his menu of Honolulu honeys and Scandinavian blonds. Ralph imitates some of the voices (she's especially good at the Scandinavian) and Murphy does the others.
Then the local congressman, Jeff Johnson (James Garner), kicks the bucket in mid-campaign. Murphy has the same name, and cashes in on the name recognition by getting his name on the ballot and winning the votes of everyone who thinks he's the other Jeff Johnson. Once in Washington, he realizes he can make the most money by selling his vote, and so he hires himself out to Dick Dodge (Lane Smith), the crooked chairman of the most powerful committee in Congress.
By now "The Distinguished Gentleman" should really be humming along, but it isn't, and the problem is with the slow pacing. This is screwball material, and Murphy, with his quick delivery, is ideal for a laughaminute roller coaster, but director Jonathan Lynn seems to stretch out the scenes instead of hurrying them along, and some of the dialogue seems to arrive with pauses between every word.