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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Movies You’ve Never Heard Of 3: The Man Who Knew Too Little

Welcome to the third installment of an ongoing series that involves me trying to expose you, my reader (Hi Dad!) to movies that have heretofore been only of interest to me. Today we take a look at one of Bill Murray’s lesser known comedies: The Man Who Knew Too Little.

In keeping with the theme of the year, The Man Who Knew Too Little (hereafter TMWKTL because I’m too lazy to copy and paste the title every time it comes up) is on the farcical side of the comedy field. The plot involves a buffoonish, out of work actor (Bill Murray) who has traveled to Great Britain to surprise is expatriate brother on the anniversary of his birth. The problem is that his brother has an important business meeting with some German clients, and can’t celebrate right away.

The brother, feeling bad about the whole thing, buys Bill Murray tickets to a special show called “The Theatre of Life” which takes place in the streets of London, and makes the theatre-goer the main character of the play. He promises to meet up with Bill Murray after the show so they can smoke some celebratory cigars before midnight.

The show is supposed to start when Bill Murray answers a public phone, from which he will get his instructions as to where to go and what the scene will be. All in character. Of course, this particular phone just happens to be located at a dead-drop, and when Bill Murray answers the phone he inadvertently gets instructions intended for an international assassin.

And thus begins a string of miscommunications and misunderstandings that will bring the world to the brink of a new Cold War.

Overall, the theme is similar to those old Popeye shorts in which Popeye chases after Sweet Pea as he crawls through a construction site completely oblivious to the danger he’s in. The ignorance of his situation is what gives Bill Murray’s character the edge that lets him cheat death and remain a step ahead of the ever growing roster of spies, spooks, and assassins that keep coming after him.

The brilliance is in the execution. Bill Murray is one of the best comic actors in Hollywood on his worst day; even the unwatchable Broken Flowers featured an excellent performance by Murray; and this movie represents one of his better days. His timing is flawless, and his deliveries typically spot on. And in case you thought he could only do his wry, snarky schtick, he pulls off some physical comedy as well. Particularly impressive is the Russian folk-dance number at the movie’s climax.

And it’s not just Murray. Alfred Molina, man of a thousand accents, delivers a hilarious performance as a retired KGB assassin know only as The Butcher. The Butcher is called out of retirement to put an end to this rogue operative (is he MI5? CIA? NSA?) who is gumming up the works so thoroughly.

I won’t spoil the plot any further than I already have. Chances are good that you’ll be able to catch this movie on TNT some afternoon, but I recommend renting or buying it. If you like silly, you won’t be disappointed.

Heck, it’s worth it just for the car-chase scene.