The Man Who Knew Too Little

on November 14, 1997 by Kim Williamson
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   Based on the unpublished novel "Watch That Man" by Robert Farrar, who co-adapts, this Bill Murray comedy is a genial production that places its bets on the continued funniness of the same basic joke, varied over and over. Des Moines videostore clerk Wallace Ritchie (Murray) goes to visit James (Peter Gallagher), his brother who's found riches in London. His arrival coincides with an important business dinner James is throwing; to have the bumpkinish Wallace out of the way for the night, James gets him in a popular piece of theatre in which a participant enacts some street skullduggery with a corps of actors. It's all to begin at a particular phonebooth, but the call with instructions that Wallace receives is, unknown to him, for a real-life hitman. Soon, all the while thinking the gunfire, car chases, knockout potions and ticking bombs are only stageplay, Wallace finds himself involved with Russian underworlders, scheming British spymasters and a gorgeous callgirl ("Trial by Jury's" Joanne Whalley).
   Although Warner Bros. has had this Jon Amiel film on the shelf for a while, the studio took it to ShowEast, where (as with another long-held New Regency production, "Courtesan") it played to a generally appreciative audience. Despite the repetitive nature of its humor, this cloak-and-dagger farce delivers a modestly generous number of laughs, in part due to the goofy charm of Murray in the lead. Although cast in a generic eyeful role, Kilmer makes for a pleasurable romantic interest and plays off Murray's antics to good effect. Working in amiable mode, Amiel ("Copycat") keeps matters resolutely light; even Boris the Butcher ("Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina's" Alfred Molina), a post-Soviet meatcutter slash hatchet man, makes for an agreeable cinematic companion for moviegoers. Though unlikely to have half of "Ghostbusters'" impact at the boxoffice, "The Man Who Knew Too Little" could grow via word of mouth to attain sleeper status. Starring Bill Murray, Joanne Whalley and Peter Gallagher. Directed by Jon Amiel. Written by Robert Farrar and Howard Franklin. Produced by Arnon Milchan, Michael Nathanson and Mark Tarlov. A Warner Bros. release. Comedy. Rated PG for language, innuendo, comic violence and sensuality. Running time: 94 min
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