On screen, Bill Murray is the luckiest guy in the world, and we love him for it.
In "Stripes," he got to play Army and ended up with P.J. Soles. In "Ghostbusters," he got to save the world and ended up with Sigourney Weaver. In "Groundhog Day," he got to live the same day over and over until he got it right and ended up with Andie MacDowell.
In "The Man Who Knew Too Little," he gets to play James Bond and ends up with Joanne Whalley. It's a charmed life, and it's a heck of a lot of fun to watch.
Murray is Wallace Ritchie, a video store clerk (he tells everyone he's in the movie business) who celebrates his birthday by flying to London to surprise his brother, James (Peter Gallagher). It's a surprise, all right: James is trying to impress some wealthy German clients, and the free-spirited Wallace probably isn't going to help matters.
Determined to get his brother out of the house for the evening, James pays for an evening at the "Theater of Life," a play-going experience in which you, as the star, interact with actors scattered throughout London.
Of course, this being the movies, Wallace unwittingly intercepts a phone call meant for a terrorist hired to disrupt an Anglo-Russian peace treaty. Sent to the apartment of a high-ranking British minister, he ends up teaming with a mysterious party girl (Whalley) and hopscotching all over London -- always one step ahead of some mean-looking Russian thugs.
The gimmick is that Wallace never stops believing he's part of a play.
Murray, who's made a career of playing loons who are just this side of bearable, was born for this part: a guy who's having such a grand time playing the world's smoothest operative, people start believing he is.
Even if the belly laughs are few, the grins and chuckles are spread evenly throughout.
Whalley, whose career has steadfastly refused to catch fire, makes for a perfectly seductive femme fatale, and Gallagher does a nice comic turn as the strait-laced brother.
"The Man Who Knew Too Little" has a grand time playing with the conventions of the suspense genre (its take on the ticking-time-bomb motif is particularly inspired). It also contains enough in-house references to keep ardent cinephiles busy (listen for references to both Murray's and Whalley's earlier films).
But what it does best is let Bill Murray have fun being Bill Murray, and watching that is always a pleasure.
'The Man Who Knew Too Little'
Starring Bill Murray, Joanne Whalley and Peter Gallagher
Directed by Jon Amiel
Released by Warner Bros.
L Rated PG (language, innuendo, comic violence and sensuality)
Sun score: ** 1/2
Pub Date: 11/14/97