'Boris and Natasha' is for the TV generation


You must meet a few prerequisites to appreciate "Boris and Natasha," a Showtime original movie premiering tomorrow on the premium cable service:

* You must have been a fan of "Rocky and His Friends" and "The Bullwinkle Show."

* You must also have loved "Get Smart" and "SCTV."

* You must have a broad tolerance for sophomoric humor and puns.

But hoo, boy! If you qualify you'll probably love this movie (at 8 p.m.), for it was made expressly for TV-soaked souls.

The title characters, of course, are the cartoon villains featured in the aforementioned animated shows from the satirical mind of Jay Ward. They were the regular adversaries of Rocket J. Squirrel and his trusting antlered friend, Bullwinkle Moose.

Hey, if Warren Beatty can bring wooden old "Dick Tracy" to life, why can't Dave Thomas and Sally Kellerman do the same for the odd couple spies? Their exaggerated antics in the old TV series were a broad lampoon of Cold War conventions.

By the end of "Boris and Natasha," Thomas and Kellerman have done pretty well, although viewers may also find them (and some of the movie's humor) oddly like agents 86 and 99 from "Get Smart" (Don Adams and Barbara Feldon).

Viewers should also know the going is initially slow. But stay with it and the laughs build nicely.

For one thing, the Cold War has gone away, so the opening has to introduce us to a tiny, unrepentant nation called Pottsylvania. Here, a Nazi clone called Fearless Leader sends hapless spies Boris Badenov (a great pun on the opera title "Boris Godunof") and Natasha Fatale off to the United States. They're on a bogus mission to retrieve a microchip capable of momentarily reversing time.

Unbeknown to them, another spy is on their tail, as well as "a man with very bad taste in footwear," an American double-agent and . . . well, it doesn't really matter. Things get very convoluted.

Indeed, at one point viewers are asked to write in with plot suggestions. (The mailing address is "Care of Mr. Peabody," a cute reference to another "Bullwinkle Show" regular.)

With a cleverly written narration reminiscent of the frantic clipped style William Conrad brought to "Bullwinkle" (read here by Corey Burton), the story takes happy whacks at government paranoia, the fashion industry and mystery movie conventions. It even ends up on Mount Rushmore, like "North by Northwest."

Kellerman, although initially stiff, proves to have a sly comedic side. Thomas is really too tall for the cartoon Boris (Danny DeVito would have been great), but he adds his trademark tone of parody.

"Boris and Natasha" also features a host of recognizable figures doing roles big or small, such as both Andrea Martin and John Candy, who were regulars with Thomas on "SCTV," and Alex Rocco (currently in "Sibs" and, 'way back, Las Vegas mobster Moe Green in "The Godfather").

Also look for Anthony Newley, hairdresser Jose Ebert, actor Charles Martin Smith (the film's director), June Foray (the actress who supplied the voices for Natasha and Rocky in the original animated series) and even John Volstad.

Uh, who? Only the truly TV-saturated know that Volstad was one of the Daryls on "Newhart," the curly-haired one. And he even has a spoken line here!

-! Hey, it's that kind of movie.


On The Weekend Watch:

PREMIERES, PREMIERES -- Television repeats itself repeatedly, so two new network series getting a spring look sound like no great surprises. First up tonight on CBS is "The Human Factor" (at 10 p.m., Channel 11). Now doesn't this sound like "St. Elsewhere" (and countless others)? Likable character actor John Mahoney stars as "a dedicated physician and uncon

ventional teacher" in a big city hospital, who urges his students to think about their patients' non-physical needs. Then on Friday on NBC comes "The Fifth Corner" (9 p.m., Channel 2). In this one, an international industrial spy (Alex McArthur) is bonked on the bean and loses his memory, among other things forgetting about all these people out to get him.

CULTURE SHARING -- With the approach of Passover (which begins Friday), Maryland Public Television this week has been ,, airing a unique Israeli cousin to the series "Sesame Street," the half-hour "Shalom Sesame." And today (4 p.m.) and repeating on Friday (9 a.m.), the series specifically addresses the holiday with an episode entitled "Jerusalem Jones and the Lost Afikoman."

LOCAL ANGLES -- Two shows feature Maryland connections on Saturday. On the syndicated talent hunt series "Star Search" (7 p.m. Channel 54), Nancy Bender, a New York-based singer born in Baltimore, challenges in the female vocalist segment. And on ABC's "Perfect Strangers" (9 p.m., Channel 13), Balki and his girlfriend Mary Ann (Bronson Pinchot and Rebecca Arthur) seem headed to the altar. Readers may remember that Arthur is a native of Cumberland and has family in the Baltimore area.

LOCAL PRODUCTION -- Rap stars Heavy D and MC Lyte talk to Baltimore young people in "Success Through Education: A Salute to Black Achievement," a show taped on location at City College and airing Saturday at 7 p.m. on Channel 13. Also appearing will be Baltimore School for the Arts graduate Jada Pinkett ("A Different World"), Ossie Davis ("Evening Shade) and Kellie Williams ("Family Matters"). The show is tied to the recent Sixth Annual Black Engineer of the Year Awards presented in Baltimore.

'Boris and Natasha'

Starring Dave Thomas and Sally Kellerman.

Showtime cable network.

8 p.m. Friday.

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