“Which door is England?” – Wallace Ritchie, The Man Who Knew Too Little (1997)
It’s very strange to see Bill Murray in anything from the mid 90s. It’s definitely not the period of his best material, that would have to be the early 80s. Still, he’s an exceptional actor and nothing can stop me from watching The Man Who Knew Too Little. For some reason I’d been really interested in viewing this film for a good few months. No idea why that is to be honest, something to do with Bill Murray being in a British film is intriguing to say the least.
The plot begins with Wallace Ritchie (Bill Murray), an American who travels to England for his birthday. Soon after this he meets up with his brother and is sent off to partake in roleplay theatre production. When the start of the performance is switched out for a very real case of bribery, treason and death, Wallace is unaware of this change and goes along as if the events he is experience are merely acted out. From there, he builds himself the persona of super spy and begins to unravel the plot of the villainous Roger Daggenhurst (Richard Wilson). Yes, that is the guy that played Victor Meldrew in One Foot in the Grave (1990 – 2001), I was as surprised as you.
See, the plot for me is very interesting. With or without the comedy, it’s just something I can invest myself in and thoroughly enjoy. It’s one of those films like Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014) that is a mock take of the spy genre. At the centre of it all is Walter Ritchie, the American tourist who has no idea that he’s not acting. A lot of the comedy from this film comes from the idea that Murray doesn’t actually know these people aren’t acting. Because of this, he takes a very cool and bulletproof approach to every situation. The best part about this is that the people he’s mocking think he’s some form of mastermind. Wow I’ve just given away the film there haven’t I.
Like a lot of films, the comedy throughout is very hit and miss. The final act of the film is where the best laughs are to be had. From Bill Murray dancing around throwing a bomb at people to inadvertently uncovering Richard Wilson’s character. I almost wrote Victor Meldrew again there, oh I don’t believe it. Murray of course brings his usual charm which is present in any role he takes on. His genuine dim witted character is a great addition to the film and it manages to make the plot move along surprisingly well. Too bad the plot is, without a doubt, rather confusing.
Now I’m not saying it’s confusing to the point of not being able to pass as a film, but it does have its troubles. Mainly towards the middle of the film is where things start to go wrong. If the film had just completely gotten rid of James Ritchie (Peter Gallagher) then to be honest it would have worked a lot better. For some reason the main story of the film does get rather bogged down in its subplots, which is a genuine shame. If the film had been all about Wallace not knowing he’s in a very dangerous situation, it’d have been even better. Still, the scenes where this happens are exceptionally good.
I can’t really comment on the cinematography or the musical score either, because what is there to say really? There is music and the cameras are pointed at the actors. What more do you want from a comedy really? Some parts of the film are really nice because they’re just references to other films. Wallace hitting a door down with a hammer and yelling “Here’s Wally” was funny. I mean, it’s not knockout stuff, but after watching Daddy’s Home (2015), I’ll take literally anything vaguely funny.
A lot of this film does fall flat, I’m not going to lie to you. But the idea of Murray blundering his way through a plot to have him killed just sticks with me. That idea alone was enough to make me sit from start to finish. Like I said, a lot of parts do fall flat, but there are some knock out moments that I’ve mentioned throughout. I think this may be down to the natural chemistry Bill Murray has with everyone he works with throughout. The amount he adds to this film is great, and he works very well with Lori (Joanne Whalley) and Boris (Alfred Molina). You may recognise Boris as Doctor Octopus from Spider-Man 2 (2004), because that’s who it is.
Everyone in this film does their job well. There’s nobody in this film that can’t act. Hell, even the supporting and smaller roles of the film are performed to the best of the actors ability. That’s something I’m always happy to see, because this effort really does add a lot to the film. Richard Wilson and Bill Murray are a surprisingly good combination for villain/hero opportunities. Mainly because it’s just Victor Meldrew vs. Phil from Groundhog Day (1993)
You know, recording this on the TV was probably a good idea. Not because this film hasn’t been released on UK DVD, but because it meant that during the adverts I could do something else. Hell, it even broke the film up nicely. The first half hour or so of the film I really wasn’t enjoying the experience, but gradually it got better and better. That can’t be said for many films, with a lot starting off strong and then failing to do anything with the remainder of the runtime. The Man Who Knew Too Little is just good, silly fun for me. It’s not as bad as you think it is. The best advice I can give is to stick with this film. It has a very slow start.
For me, this film is just a guilty pleasure, so is The Cat in the Hat (2003). Honestly having Bill Murray pretend he’s James Bond for the better half of an hour is more than enough for me. A few jokes do fall flat and there’s a lot more to be desired from the film. But you know what, it’s good enough for me. I most certainly wouldn’t recommend it though. I was contractually obliged to watch this film, you all have free reign to watch whatever you like. Still, if you want to see Bill Murray pretend he’s a spy while Victor Meldrew tries to kill him, this may pick your interest. Just be prepared for a few honest to God terrible spots throughout.