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

RogerEbert.com

Thumb_jimmy

Jimmy's Hall

This movie, as it happens, smooths out quite a bit of material in order to make its story points and moods conform to that of…

Thumb_large_nxcfdsanskih09xq74fjnyhw4g0

Stray Dog

"Stray Dog" largely succeeds because Granik's technique complements her subject. Both he and the film are modest in their goals and cherish the value of…

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

Why Can't Sad Be Fat?

A rebuttal to Joni Edelman's piece on "Inside Out."

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

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

The Unloved, Part 19: "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford"

The July 2015 edition of The Unloved looks at Andrew Dominik's "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert...

Magic Lantern Show: The Sensual Pleasures of "The Third Man"

On the look and sound of "The Third Man."

Reveal Comments
comments powered by Disqus