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The Man Who Knew Too Little (1997)
There are those who think Bill Murray can do no wrong, that he has an impeccable comic flair and intelligence that drive even mediocre fare. And I'm one of them.
And this is relatively humdrum stuff on one level--though the basic idea of spoofing a spy superstar is as old and reliable as James Bond himself. (I mean, Bond spoofs were around when Sean Connery was still 007.) And the writing is really very witty here, giving two prongs forward in this mostly funny, always fast affair.
That is--I laughed a lot! That's the goal. The cold war themes of the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. going head to head were old even in 1997 but of course not old for James Bond, and this does harken back somehow to the original. Murray plays a classic type--the hero who succeeds by accident. Often, it's the absurdity and illogic of this odd hero that makes him successful, surprising the professionals and seeming brazen and original. And so he is.
The plot is simple--some bad guys have a bomb that's going to go off in five hours. We know that at the start, and so the rest is loaded with anticipation and dread as the deadline nears. We also know (in this sort of movie) that no harm will come to Murray's cheerful, doltish American type. So the race against the clock is a series of gags and spoofs and lucky twists, all good for laughs. Murray is the key to it all, playing the naive participant with that uncanny timing and innocent face too well, over and over. If it were only about Murry this would be a 10 star masterpiece. The rest of the cast, and the eventual inevitability of the plot, hold it back, though. So it is what it is, still a great romp.
You want more than that? You won't get it. But why would you? Enjoy.
He's a bumbling fool who's ungodly lucky. He's a brilliant secret
agent, and he thinks he's part of a reality show. He saves the world,
and he hasn't got a clue.
It's a superb comedy concept, and one which Bill Murray was born for. What a crime that this did not turn into a series of multiple movies. And what a shame that many people probably don't even know this one exists. It's a true gem.
Also featuring other great actors like the delicious Joanne Whalley (a favorite of mine since The Singing Detective), and the great, great Alfred Molina in one of his best roles ever, as the good-natured but hard-boiled Russian agent Boris the Butcher. Alfred Molina is fantastic. He can play anything; good or evil, handsome or ugly, dignified or foolish. The man is a genius.
But as for Bill Murray; this movie is one of his best ones, and will certainly go down in history as a major comedy classic. When I noticed that the movie is based on a book, I tried to find it, but unfortunately it seems the book is unpublished. Which also means that there weren't any sequels... :-(
Anyway, we have this movie, and it is virtually perfect. Great fun.
For anyone who loves Peter Sellers you know that one of his best
performances and least known films is 'The Party'. The movie itself if
odd, but you love it because it is showcases the quintessential Peter
In a like-manner, The Man Who Knew too Little is Bill Murray in his purest form. It too is a bit of an odd movie - the main character is completely out-of-his element (whatever element that is). The more you watch the movie the more of a classic it becomes and the more intriguing the relationship between the comedian and the world becomes. It is the point at which art and comedy become one.
Love it or hate it, The Man Who Knew too Little is brilliant.
Bill Murray at his best, leading his fellow actors to believability! The genius of this film is that it is the inverse of Groundhog Day - where his character knew the day was replaying over & over & no one else did. In this film, there is European flavor, espionage, political intrigue, all the while everyone else understands reality, and because of trusting circumstances his character determines that they are all playing along to celebrate his birthday. He walks unscathed through truly dangerous scenarios, but brought to humor by the incredulity of it all!!! The dancing Cosack scene was a highlight! This movie is totally fun and as planktonrules says, very overlooked. A very special film on Murray's resume!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Jimmy Ritchie has reason to be uptight: for his job in London, he is having
Germans over to his house for dinner, and he must impress them. So the last
thing he needs is for his loser brother Wally to show up. To get rid of
him, Jimmy arranges for Wally to be on a reality show, but thanks to a mixup
in a phone booth, Wally ends up in a spy caper which is real, only he
doesn't know it. He believes all of the people involved are actors, and no
matter how violent things appear, Wally thinks everything is being staged.
But these are dangerous people: one of the villains wants to restart the
cold war. A major treaty is being signed, and someone wants to set off a
bomb as it is happening.
Bill Murray is wonderful in this movie. Wally comes across as so confident and able to cope with anything. The situations are hilarious, even though people could easily get killed. Al Molina was good as one of the villains, and I especially liked the incompetent Russians, though I never caught the names.
It was a great effort, though I've seen even better from Bill Murray.
Possible SPOILERS follow:
The dancing for the treaty ceremony was great. Especially since Wally somehow found himself to be one of the dancers!
And one of the highlights of the movie came when Wally, not realizing the seriousness of the situation, found himself with the bomb...
AN EVEN BIGGER ********** SPOILER ***********
... and ended up being the one who would have to disarm it--even though he didn't know what he had!
This film was a classic the moment it was put together. Bill Murray has never been funnier. He plays his character flawlessly. The supporting cast down to the extras are perfect. It brings to life a type of comedy that has faded in recent years. It is a perfect film. If you like Bill Murray, or the Pink Panther movies, or even good old fashioned comedy, this is the movie to see!
Bill Murray is in his best form in this movie. I bought the DVD version
after seeing the VHS version. Just yesterday I watched it twice in a row.
I found myself giggling through many of the scenes.
Murray stumbles his way through what he believes is a live-action on-location "Theater of Life", but in reality is an international plot to assassinate Russian and Britain ambassadors and resurrect the Cold War spy game - by the very same high-ranking officials in Britain and Russia who whould oversee it.
The dialog is full of double meanings, as Murray talks in terms of the theater, and everyone else around him is talking in terms of the real-life spy game going on around him. He is unaware of each of his bumbling moves, yet each one is seen as the performance of a highly-trained master spy. The dialog alone is a tightly-crafted jewel. After several viewings it becomes predictable, but Murray's performance admirably carries the entertainment value.
That more than adequately sums up my feelings of 'The Man Who Knew Too
Little'. It's his show. All the way. There is also no denying this is a
rather stupid movie because it has to be. The only prerequisite is the
situation must be completely implausible and the main character a
complete bulb and on those terms this movie passes with flying colors.
Wallace Ritchie (Bill Murray) is a man perhaps the furthest thing from
ultra cool and sexy a la James Bond. I guess the fact that he is a
forty-plus year old man working at Blockbuster is confirmation of just
Coming to visit his brother, James (Peter Gallagher), you can see from frame one that James wants nothing more than to get rid of him. Yes, sign him up for some harmless fantasy role-playing and adventure. Where's the harm in that? He's supposed to go to a telephone booth and await fake instructions except when he picks up the phone, it's an actual spook relaying him to go to an address. Seconds later, the real assassin approaches the telephone booth, phone rings and picks it up. It's the game calling. Some man is pretending to beat up a woman across the street as we can see the window and corresponding sound from the telephone. The assassin without emotion calmly walks across the street and mechanically puts three shells in the male actor. A rare moment of dark humor in an otherwise over-the-top silly movie.
The rest follows a pattern of Wallace stumbling around unaware of what he's really involved in and this illusion he can do / say / try anything without consequence of death is weirdly amusing. Of course, furthest from plausible, but having to be as such. If you can shoulder a sporting Bill Murray carrying the weight in order to save a threadbare story you'll find something to like here. Even though by the end, it had worn thin, I had a real good laugh or two and that's more than I can say for most comedies nowadays. A must-watch for Bill Murray fans.
The Man Who Knew Too Little may have a contrived premise, but this hardly matters as once the plot gets going it is very very funny.Bill Murray has yet to give anything less than a hysterically funny performance in a film and although no-one comes close to providing as many laughs than he, Richard Wilson makes a very funny villain. It is sad that this film wasn't a big success because it deserves to be.
It's hard to believe that this movie is so little known, because it is Bill Murray's best to date. It is so cleverly done and hilarious, even without the little sly jokes you may not get until the 2nd or 3rd time through. Anyone who loves non-vulgar comedy should watch this movie.
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