In Memoriam 1942 – 2013 “Roger Ebert loved movies.”

RogerEbert.com

Thumb_large_ff2ufvphien2szdtsmjflh03efz

Dear White People

You could make a (film geek) party game out of guessing director Justin Simien's influences, but his vision seems to spring directly from what's up…

Thumb_10687421_10152289281917007_4858446204490388004_o

Private Violence

A look at the complexity of domestic violence, especially when it comes to the difficulty of prosecuting abusers in a court of law, "Private Violence"…

Other Reviews
Review Archives
Thumb_xbepftvyieurxopaxyzgtgtkwgw

Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

Thumb_jrluxpegcv11ostmz1fqha1bkxq

Monsieur Hire

Patrice Leconte's "Monsieur Hire" is a tragedy about loneliness and erotomania, told about two solitary people who have nothing else in common. It involves a…

Other Reviews
Great Movie Archives

Reviews

The Man Who Knew Too Little

  |  

The funniest thing about "The Man Who Knew Too Little'' is the title; that melancholy truth that develops with deadening finality as the movie marches on. The movie develops endless permutations on an idea that is not funny, until at last, in desperation, we cry, "Bring on some dancing Cossacks!'' and it does.

Bill Murray stars as Wallace, a clueless American tourist, visiting London to see his brother (Peter Gallagher). The brother is a banker throwing a big business dinner, so to get rid of Wallace, he buys him a ticket to the "Theater of Life,'' a troupe that works on the city streets and involves one audience member at a time in a real-life drama.

Wallace, alas, answers a pay phone at the wrong time, and finds himself involved in a real spy drama instead of a fake theatrical one. This leads to no end of misunderstandings, and when I say "no end,'' please assume a tone of despair mixed with exhaustion.

The movie is simply not funny. It is clever, yes. Based on a book by Robert Farrar, it concocts conversations that all have the same thing in common: They can be taken both ways. So Wallace means one thing and the spies think he means another, and on and on and on and on and on.

When he is funny, Bill Murray is very funny. But he needs something to push against. He is a reactor. His best screen characters are passive-aggressive: They insinuate themselves unwanted into ongoing scenarios. Here he's the center of the show, and all of the other characters are carefully tailored to fit precisely into the requirements of his misunderstanding, like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.

There are sequences here dripping with desperation, like the whole business involving the window ledge. The dancing Cossack scene involves many Chinese dolls, one containing a bomb with a red digital readout (RDR). Here is a movie gasping for diversions, and does it think of any gags involving the RDR? It does not. It never even clearly establishes how we can see the RDR, since it is inside the doll. Or maybe (sound of critic's palm smacking against forehead) that's the joke.

Popular Blog Posts

Who do you read? Good Roger, or Bad Roger?

This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...

"1941": An Appreciation and Interview with Bob Gale

An appreciation of "1941" and interview with Bob Gale.

NYFF 2014: Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Inherent Vice”

A review of Paul Thomas Anderson's "Inherent Vice" from the 2014 New York Film Festival.

Interview: Cary Elwes on the Lasting Power of “The Princess Bride”

An interview with Cary Elwes about "The Princess Bride."

Reveal Comments
comments powered by Disqus