'Groundhog Day': A joke run into the ground



(Columbia TriStar, rated PG, 1993)

This movie would have been a great short featurette on "Saturday Night Live." One would think (especially after watching it) that a 20-minute segment would pretty well exhaust the comic possibilities involving the phenomenon of deja vu.

But in a world where "Wayne's World" and "Conehead" sketches are turned into full-length features, it should come as no surprise that we would see a movie based on a one-joke premise.

As if that weren't bad enough, the creators spend 30 minutes setting up the joke in what has to rank as one of the most uninteresting and tedious first acts in movie history. One wouldn't blame viewers if they shut this thing off in the first half-hour and took it back to the video store demanding a refund.

But be advised that it is worth sticking with this comedy until the end.

Put simply, an egotistical and obnoxious weatherman (Bill Murray) on his fourth-annual trek to cover the Groundhog's Day festivity in Punxsutawney, Pa., suddenly finds himself waking up each morning at 6 a.m. to find that it is Feb. 2 all over again.

Once he accepts his predicament, he exploits just about every ** conceivable advantage of the situation, such as pigging out one day because he's still thin the next, using information he learns one day to pick up women the next and anticipating accidents so that he can become a hero. But all this has little long-term benefit as all is forgotten by everyone except him the next day.

The futility of it all takes its toll, and he eventually commits suicide. No good. He wakes up just the same the next morning. Even this concept is bled for more than it's worth as we see him attempt just about every kind of death.

Of course, this, along with much of the rest of the film, is completely illogical. Why would he think one form of dying would be more effective than another against the powers of deja vu? And why doesn't his altered behavior and interaction affect the activity of others? The biggest question of all is, why doesn't he simply end this recurring day by staying awake until the next day begins? By the time he realizes this option months later, we have long since stopped trying to attach any credibility to the concept and have started taking it at face value.

Among the funniest sequences are those involving the weeks of practicing various pre-choreographed approaches to his producer (Andie MacDowell), with whom he has fallen in love, until he eventually impresses her by becoming a town hero and adept at anticipating her every desire.

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