Macy is brilliant in funny film noir

The Baltimore Sun

A SLIGHT CASE OF MURDER -- Warner Home Video / $19.97

William H. Macy has never delivered as finely crafted a comic performance as he does in A Slight Case of Murder. That's right, never - not even in Fargo (1996) - and he was superb in that feature film.

The 1999 made-for-cable murder mystery becomes available Tuesday on DVD, and Macy's brilliant work is not the only reason to recommend it. There are outstanding supporting performances by Adam Arkin, James Cromwell and Felicity Huffman, Macy's wife and one of the stars of ABC's Desperate Housewives. The script, co-written by Macy, is drenched in wickedly clever film noir twists, and the look is Manhattan downscale deco photographed with lots of love.

The film opens with Terry Thorpe (Macy), a tightly wrapped film critic on cable TV, in an absolute dither. He is in the apartment of a woman with whom he just had dinner and she is now lying dead on the floor.

The woman, Laura Penney (Stephanie Belding), slipped on an ice cube during an argument with Thorpe and hit her head on the sharp edge of a table as she fell.

An accident? Yes, but Thorpe is not hanging around to find out if the police will see it that way. After popping one of the dead woman's Xanax tablets, he's out the door.

The film's comic tone is quickly established with Thorpe speaking to the camera as he eyes the Xanax bottle with its message to take one for stress: "If this isn't a stressful situation, there is no such thing."

What follows is a dark romp with Thorpe getting himself in more and more trouble the harder he schemes.

First comes a blackmailing private investigator (Cromwell), and then, a seemingly thick-witted New York city detective (Arkin). Meanwhile, the nagging questions about the murder from Thorpe's girlfriend, Kit Wannamaker (Huffman), just keep coming until it seems as if Thorpe might kill her - and not by accident.

The cat and mouse interplay between Arkin and Macy is sublime. Arkin's Detective Fred Stepelli has a screenplay he wants Thorpe to read, and so, he invites the critic to dinner. Big mistake for all parties concerned.

"If you're going to commit a murder - and I don't recommend it - one thing you should definitely not do," Thorpe says to the camera. "is sleep with the investigating officer's wife. It just makes for a lot of unnecessary complications."



Snyder was a little late in getting to 1960s culture with these 1979 to 1981 interviews. Still, Grateful Dead fans will enjoy seeing band members Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzman in conversation with a late-night original. Better yet are the performances of On the Road Again, Dire Wolf and Deep Elem Blues.

David Zurawik

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