Rated PG - Running time: 1:33 - Released 11/14/97

Bill Murray is getting older; there's no doubt about it. The young man we met on Saturday Night Live 20+ years ago, and learned to love in his early movies like Stripes and Meatballs, has some definite lines on his face, some failures under his belt. But this isn't one of them. Murray can still deliver the belly laughs if given the right vehicle, and this is Bill at his best.

In this hilarious spy spoof, Murray is Wallace Richie, a regular guy who celebrates his birthday in London by participating in the newest craze: the "Theatre of Life." This is a kind of audience-participation adventure game where the client pays for assistance by real actors to live out his most exciting (clean) fantasy. It's sort of like the "holodeck," for you Star Trek: The New Generation fans. You get a call in an anonymous phone booth, you show up at a seedy hotel room, and you are cast as the savior of a young damsel who is being roughed up by a "bad guy." The problem is, when Wallace picks up his anonymous phone call, he gets a real bad guy, giving him real orders (intended for someone else) to perform a real killing.

Wallace soon gets caught up in an extremely complex international spy operation, with numerous attempts made on his life. But he thinks it's all a game, and all the people are just actors. So he lives it up, gleefully making the most of every opportunity to shoot at people, be shot at, and rescue his girlfriend. He also takes time to continually thank and compliment the "actors" on the fine job they're doing, including one shooting victim who astounds Wallace with his "dead" act. Of course, he ends up making the world safe for democracy, without ever knowing it. The large supporting cast does a fine job at the relatively simple task of playing straight opposite Murray's comedy.

This film is excellent for laughs, but there are a few minor problems. The story is a little too complex for its own good; there are almost too many characters to keep track of, and it lags at times, especially toward the end. They probably could have trimmed a half hour or so off the running time, or dispensed with all the bad guys' evil machinations and just filled it up with Murray. But it's still a hoot. ****½

Copyright 1997 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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