'Looks' is lively, but relies too heavily on Bond antics for humor


"If Looks Could Kill" is "The Prisoner of Zenda" for MTV.

Why? Why ask why?

Director William Dear updates the clunky old Fairbanks-Colman swashbuckler with Uzis and James Bond gizmos and a hot young TV star in the Colman role, but it's still the same farrago of mixed identities, pre-Iron Curtain middle-European political schemes and dizzy plottings.

TV hunk Richard Grieco plays a doltish high school student who must accompany the French Club to Paris in pursuit of a missing credit that would allow him to graduate. It turns out that he shares a name -- Michael Corben -- with a CIA hotshot also being summoned to Paris to investigate the murder of some European finance ministers.

The Fed is offed -- by Linda Hunt, in an amusing turn that is based on Lotte Lenya's camp-out in "From Russia with Love" those many eons ago -- and Greico bumbles into his identity, without ever quite getting it. This pretty much kills the movie for about 40 minutes as it reiterates a single joke near unto death.

It's the lame one where the innocent, not understanding that he's been targeted, still manages to sail blithely through one assassination attempt after another because his very naive clumsiness discombobulates the pros who have been assigned to take him out.

And one might also point out that the movie relies entirely too much on its parody of the Bond phenomenon for laughs, complete to a Porsche with machine guns and a villain with a mechanical hand. But the only thing deader than James Bond is a Series-E bond. Who cares?

Still, it's a lively show. Grieco, once you get used to the eyeliner that turns him into Nefertiti from the nose up, is an engaging

presence. Hunt and Roger Rees have their nicely oily parts, and there are some overblown but attention-getting action sequences.

Too many people die, however. In what is essentially meant to be a confectionary diversion for adolescent audiences, why is it necessary that the body-count reach the "Die Hard" level? Whatever happened to the old movie convention of "knocking out" bad guys. Now we spray them full of lead, set them on fire and watch for the EEG to flat line. It turns audiences into autopsy technicians. Ick.

If Looks Could Kill'

Starring Richard Grieco and Linda Hunt.

Directed by William Dear.

Warner Bros.

Rated PG-13.

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