The Man Who Knew Too Little based on the novel by Robert Farrar
Without the monumental Bill Murray, this motion picture might have collapsed, given its script shortcomings and the pretense of a British – Soviet conspiracy – among the heads of their respective Intelligence Agencies anyway.
Bill Murray, The King of Comedy – probably as funny as Rupert Pumpkin aka Robert de Niro in the gigantic King of Comedy, directed by Martin Scorsese and starring also Jerry Lewis, another titan – has the role of Wallace Ritchie, although he would also become Spenser.
The hero travels to London from the United States, on his birthday, to meet his brother who works in Britain and is expecting some important clients for dinner, that very same night, given the ad hoc arrival of his rather slow sibling.
James Ritchie does not want to compromise his bond with major business partners and knows his brother to be rather outré – he tells his wife that he had tried to become an actor and now works in a Blockbuster Rental Video Store, like Quentin Tarantino, in the days when rental video still existed.
Therefore, he tries to get the American guest out of the house for the night, with the promise that the two brothers would smoke hugely expensive Ambassador Cigars, right before midnight.
When discussing what to offer as entertainment, the penchant for acting is mentioned and given the advertising for a new thing, a theater company offering the thrill of interactive performance wherein the client gets involved, they take this chance and call the agency.
They are supposed to wait outside a phone booth – they were on the streets some years ago – for the call, only a coincidence makes it that at the same place, a hit man is supposed to get the details for his next target, hence when they pick the receiver, they are hear Spencer- flush at this address…
Wallace becomes Spenser for the game, arrives at the address given where Lori thinks he is a killer – for the fun of the interactive script, the amused hero plays along, as he just did when he encountered muggers on the street, which he treated as actors, with a hilarious ease, amused mockery, repeated lines rendered fabulous by the Maharajah of humor, Bill Murray.
In the first instance, the protagonist pretends to beg the attackers to let him be, only to change tone and tack, to become brave, aggressive and insulting to the criminals that he calls “scum like you are a plague upon society”…well, words to that effect.
Lori has an affair with a minister, some secret, titillating letters are wanted, the woman thinks that the American is ruthless, especially after they find the corpse of the real hit man, with whom the hero jokes.
Indeed, throughout the film the protagonist thinks he is just acting, therefore seeing the dead body, he is sure this is a magnificent actor, given that he throws things at him, shouts loud to scare or at least provoke a small movement from the departed killer that he thinks is just pretending to be deceased.
Enter Boris “The Butcher” aka the great Alfred Molina, who is called to eliminate a rogue agent that might kill off the deal that the head of MI5 or maybe six is making with the head of the KGB.
In the ensuing car chase, the police interferes, with Wallace breaking all the rules, in the same wrongheaded belief that this is just a show paid for by his brother, until they are stopped by the law, ordered to let go by the high ranking official from the Secret Service who communicates through a very clever, innovative for the time device.
The police and secret agent exchange impressions, talk about the advantages of being a James Bond- license to kill, meeting gorgeous women – and the shortcomings, such as torture.
The latter seems to in the cards for Spenser aka Wallace, once Boris and his acolytes get their hands on the American, preparing to use extreme pain and spill blood- this would be the ticket for the prisoners.
The companions of Boris speak about the last operation when so much blood was spilled during the abuse of one imprisoned enemy and they were the ones who had to do all the cleaning – and presumably, flushing.
They convince the Butcher to bring a woman who knows how to torment without the necessity of so much cover up at the end of her elaborate work, but while they wait for the woman, the great American agent gets into action.
It is not clear if the prisoner thought of doing anything to escape or it was all a stupid misunderstanding and slapstick comedy, starting with the request for some drops in his nose.
Small balls fall on the floor, one of the guards slips on them, while standing in his chair and turning, the hero takes out the other Soviet agent, freeing Lori and escaping on the balcony, only to be suspended at high altitude.
He then gets involved in the Russian dance show, organized as part of the celebrations for the official summit that the Secret Agencies wish to compromise with a bomb, takes the doll with the explosive and gets a suitcase of cash from the villains in the process.
This is not the best comedy ever, but The King of Comedy is such a master of his art that he transforms a rather forgettable feature into a worthwhile entertainment, if for nothing else, then just to see him perform.