Warner Bros./Warner Home Video .
R4 . COLOR . 90 mins .
PG . PAL
This opening line has been rewritten 14 times so far. That, more than anything else I have to say, is the best indication of the success of The Man Who Knew Too Little. Or it might be an indication of how much trouble Iím having lately writing reviews. Whichever it is, as much as I wanted to really like this film, I didnít like it nearly as much as I hoped to. Not even close.
I really know how to write a definitive statement, donít I?
I, for one, blame everyone except Bill Murray. I mean, who in their right mind doesnít want a Bill Murray film to be great? Billís this crazy kinda guy you wish you knew, or even wish you were, you know? Well, I do, anyway. I donít like me very much. Iíd probably like me a whole lot more if I was him.
"Stop! Or the midget-dominatrix-Hitler-bondage-freak-oldbag gets it!"
Wally Ritchie (Bill Murray) is an American video store clerk visiting his younger brother Jimmy (Someone Else, seems like a nice guy) in England. Jimmy is hosting an important business dinner at his home so needs Wally out of the house for the night. The latest in-thing is a participatory theatre group which throws the public into the middle of a dramatic situation (like Hueyís Kitchen), so Jimmy buys him a ticket to be involved.
While waiting by a public phone for the call informing him the show is about to start (thatís how the theatre troupe works), he instead takes a call meant for a hired killer and accidentally gets involved in a plot to jumpstart the Cold War (John Malkovich). Following is much hilarity as Wally goes about killing and protecting and being a spy, all the while thinking itís part of the show his brother booked him on. Iíd normally say something like ďmuch hilarity ensuesĒ or something similarly clichťd, except not much hilarity ensues to be honest.
Truth be told, as Iíd waited so long to watch this, my expectations had probably built this up into something it couldnít possibly achieve. Damn my overactive mind to HELL! Itíll be the death of me... well, that or all the fatty foods I eat while cleaning my guns in the nude with the lights out.
"What? What are you staring at? Is there something on my face? Is it a mole? Do I have a mole?"
Murray is thoroughly and utterly - and perhaps even lazily - himself. The same faces, the same lines, the same dry self-satisfied smug smirking from most of his good work. Thatís how I like him, thatís how it should be, thatís how he ought to stay. The problem is the script just doesnít fire off enough real barbs, or is it zingers? I can never remember which. Either one would have been preferable in heavier doses than what we have here. Thereís approximately one gag in the whole show and they run it down to death. Yes, we know heís a normal guy, No, he doesnít realise heís tangled up in an international plot to kill some important people, and no, the bad guys donít realise heís not a spy. We get it already! Find something else to crack funny about. Make jokes about the Polish. Thatís always good for a laugh.
Unfortunately, half way in it dawns on you that youíve just seen and heard every joke in the film and now theyíre just going to repeat them all again and again until the story resolves itself somehow. Itíll probably involve an exploding cow, a shoe and maybe a custard tart, but probably not in that particular order. Excuse me for a moment, I feel like grabbing a custard tart out of the fridge right now...
...mmm delicious. Thereís this great little bakery in Fawkner, about ten minutes from here, they make the best stuff. Thatís just FYI.
If you held a gun to my head and asked me whoís to blame for this film being not quite right, Iíd probably cry like a baby then kick you in the nuts when youíre distracted, taking the gun off you and running away like a demented goose.
But if you asked me nicely, Iíd say the blame lies squarely at the feet of John Amiel, the director. His track record isnít great, and many of his films have this similar quality of not being up to snuff. Copycat is an okay film, but falls well short of being great entertainment with a lack of substance, a certain something missing in the script. I believe the French call it ďJ'ai perdu ma petite chŤvreĒ. Ditto with The Core. It can be great fun, but is clearly free of the substance needed to make it a truly memorable popcorn flick, and the same goes for Entrapment. Essentially all these films have a flimsy premise which is strung out too thinly to sustain the audience with half a brain without something blowing up or women wearing sexy clothing and wiggling their butts seductively towards the camera.
Iím all for things blowing up and women in sexy clothing, but The Man Who Knew Too Little doesnít have enough of these things, nor enough comedy, and certainly not enough ďJ'ai perdu ma petite chŤvreĒ to be completely successful.
Frankly I expected far worse than this presentation (thereís that problem with expectation again Ė curse my foul brain!). What we have is a perfectly fine transfer, a nice rectangular 1.78:1 shape and pleasingly enhanced with lots of 16:9 wholesome goodness for all the family. All the good things that Iíd say about a quality picture apply here, with strong attractive colours, good rich shadows (very handy considering itís set at night), crisp defined detail and a clean print. I canít imagine what made me think that Warner Bros. would release a grainy, flat and dull looking NTSC DVD onto consumers. I must have been out of my mind.
The Dolby 5.1 mix is nothing to get aroused by, and if you do get aroused by 5.1 mixes then youíre a sicker puppy than I. Perhaps sound can help you get aroused if youíre in the right situation, say, canoodling with your lady on the couch and things are getting a little hot, then sure, a little mood noise might go down well, but if youíre by yourself and kinky thoughts start to cross your mind while you watch the loud bits in Black Hawk Down, then you need to get out more often man. Maybe get a girl. Girls are good.
I guess I just found it sort of perfunctory, but not in a bad way, if that makes any sense. Itís busy getting the sound to you, the dialogue sounds nice and clear and well anchored, but other than that, a little stereo work and some uncommitted surround use, thatís about it that I noticed. Itís not really doing anything interesting with its design. Itís not a detrimental flaw, more just something which puts an older film into perspective against more modern engrossing mixes. It does what it does well enough though.
Nothing extra? Not a thing? The region 1 has a commentary and we donít even get a trailer? Slack.
Well, itís not the funniest film Iíve ever watched, not by a long shot, but it still beats watching TV shit like Australian Idol Virgins Doing the Block. Murray fans will dig this, as they probably do most his work, but anyone else is going to be struggling to justify the miniscule amount of mainstream-friendly laughs.