'Boris and Natasha': less squirrely than it should be



(Academy) Directed by Charles Martin Smith; starring Dave Thomas, Sally Kellerman, Alex Rocco, Paxton Whitehead and Andrea Martin.

Few transformations of cartoon characters into live actors have worked, so one approaches this effort with a large dose of skepticism that is ultimately justified. But the remarkably faithful translation during the opening minutes convinces one that "Boris and Natasha" may be the exception to the rule. Corey Burton's narration is an uncanny evocation of William Conrad's distinctive announcing during the show's original run from 1959 to '61, particularly his delivery.

As a shadowy figure moves toward the viewer, Mr. Burton describes him as "a man so sinister, so dangerous and so-o-o badly lit, he is known only as agent X."

Sally Kellerman even affects a passable Natasha Fatale accent, although her strapless gowns don't hang as well on her as on her animated predecessor.

The end of the story, which involves a time-reversing microchip, is even faithful to its roots with the sign-off, "Be with us next time for 'Goodbye Mr. Chip' or 'The Megabytes Back.' "

But the interminable 80 minutes in the middle strays far from the kind of satirical plots and cynical wisecracks that immortalized the cartoon series. Former Second City Television star Dave Thomas makes little effort to imitate the accent or mannerisms of Boris Badenov. Not even Mr. Thomas' former SCTV buddies Andrea Martin and John Candy or cameos by Arye Gross and Anthony Newly can save this squirrel whose rocky production history ended with the film making its national debut on the Showtime cable network.


(New Line)

Directed by Jim Jarmusch; starring Gena Rowlands, Winona Ryder, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Giancarlo Esposito, Rosie Perez, Isaach De Bankole, Beatrice Dalle and Roberto Benigni.

Not since "Local Hero" have film viewers been treated to such a quirky good time. Get ready for five of the most memorable cab rides of your life in this delightful two-hour episodic adventure from filmmaker Jim Jarmusch.

The least entertaining of all is the initial segment, featuring the most prominent actors in the film: Gena Rowlands as a casting agent and Winona Ryder as a rough-talking Los Angeles cabbie who aspires to be a mechanic.

Other stops include New York, Paris, Helsinki and Rome, where Italian comic Roberto Benigni's nonstop confessions to a his reluctant passenger, a priest, of sexual relations with a pumpkin, a sheep and his sister-in-law are too much for the clergyman.

7+ The final three segments are subtitled.

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