Eye For Film >> Movies >> The Man Who Knew Too Little (1997) Film Review
The Man Who Knew Too Little
Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray
This should have been a hoot. The ingredients are there: very Fifties, very Danny Kaye. The problem is Bill Murray. He hijacks the production and makes it his, when all it wants is to be is itself.
The premise pushes its luck in the street cred dept. Self-centred nobody, Wallace (Murray), from Iowa, arrives in London on his birthday to surprise brother James (Peter Gallagher), an ambitious investment banker, on the evening he's hosting a business dinner for influential German clients. To get Wallace out of the way, without appearing inhospitable, James buys him a ticket for the latest Theatre Of Life production. This is an avant garde group that depends on audience participation in their unscripted shows. It encourages the participants to express themselves in a theatrical and yet meaningful way. In other words, make a complete prat of themselves.
Wallace goes down to the venue, a phone box in the East End, and awaits his cue - the ringing of the telephone. Of course, when it comes, it's from someone else, leading Wallace off on an incredible adventure, involving high level blackmail, Russian hitmen, corrupt civil servants and a bomb in a doll. Wallace, naturally, thinks everyone's acting and has a wild time. The contrast in comic styles between Richard Wilson (corrupt civil servant), Alfred Molina (Russian hitman), the English contingent (John Standing, Geraldine James, et al) and Murray is unsettling. It is not simply that Americans have different ideas about humour, half the joke being a Yank in London misundersanding the local customs, but a question of attitude. Danny Kaye did it so well in Knock On Wood, a movie that has many similarities to this one.
Murray is best when he's in charge (Ghostbusters, Groundhog Day), arrogant in the face of chaos. Playing the little guy, trapped by unforseen circumstances, is perfect for Lee Evans. Murray can't do it. He keeps stopping, taking a look at himself and grimacing. On the plus side is the return of Joanne Whalley (aka Whalley-Kilmer), as a juicy bit-of-ministerial-stuff. Her role is an excuse to wear tacky clothes and look sexy, rather than advance the plot. Having her around softens Murray's influence, which is good, although she shouldn't be doing this when there are all those Vivien Leigh parts waiting to be resuscitated.Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001