Wallace Ritchie (Bill Murray) is a clueless American celebrating his birthday by dropping in unexpectedly on his brother James (Peter Gallagher) in London. James, however, is about to host a very important business dinner. To get Wallace out of his hair, James gives him theater tickets as a birthday present. But this is not any run-of-the-mill theater, it is the Theater of Life, an audience participation show that takes place on the streets of London.
However, Wallace is accidentaly diverted when he intercepts a phone call meant for a hitman. Assuming this is all part of the "Theater of Life", he plays along, assuming the part of the hitman. Soon, he is embroiled in a dastardly international spy conspiracy which aims to reignite the Cold War.
Mistaken identity gags abound as Wallace believes the spies are actors, and they belive him to be a dangerous rogue hitman. His life is in danger, and he doesn't even know it. Even those he runs across, such as femme fatale Lori (Joanne Whalley), or the assassin Boris the Butcher (Alfred Molina), don't notice the deception.
For a film that banks its whole success on one mistaken identity gag, The Man Who Knew Too Little is marginally successful in that you don't get immediately tired of it. A large part of the credit has to go to the indefatigable Bill Murray, who, while not at the top of his form, still manages to find humor in what could of been a stale situation.
That said, The Man Who Knew Too Little is far from a comic masterpiece. Plenty of the jokes are so obvious they just fall flat. Murray can only help the film so far, and we're left to wish for a single smart character in the entire film. Our wish is unfulfilled.
The characters throughout The Man Who Knew Too Little are the traditional ones for an espionage flick, and for the most part are rather flat here. Only Alfred Molina's assassin has any distinguishing character quirks at all.
Overall, there's the kernel of a good comedy here, but it never reaches it's potential. Perhaps if they were able to branch out and be more than a mistaken-identity farce... However, as is, wait for video if you see this one at all.
[PG - language, innuendo, comic violence and sensuality] (WB)