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Once Upon a Crime (November 22/03)

Though Once Upon a Crime isn't a terrible movie, it is a mediocre one - which is a shame when you look at the film's cast list.

Set in Monte Carlo, the film follows several characters as they become caught up in a murder. There's the boorish American and his wife (played by Jim Belushi and Cybill Shepherd) who find themselves suspected of the crime because they just happened to be toting around a suitcase with a dead body in it. Then there's the two mismatched strangers (Sean Young and Richard Lewis) that are attempting to return a lost dog to the murder victim, a coincidence that the inspector on the case doesn't buy. Finally, there's a gregarious gambler (John Candy) caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.

It's the actors that keep the film from becoming an all-out bore, which tries desperately to capture the spirit of a high-energy farce. And though director Eugene Levy encourages his performers to go as over-the-top as possible (which equates to a lot of yelling and running around), the charm and charisma of folks like Candy and even Richard Lewis keeps things interesting. The script (by Charles Shyer, Nancy Meyers, and Steve Kluger) is undeniably quite fast paced, with something always happening, which leads to a group of characters that are never developed beyond the most superficial attributes (Belushi's a jerk, Lewis is neurotic, etc). But there are several genuinely funny moments, including a French clerk that perfectly apes Lewis' familiar mannerisms when describing him to the police.

The mystery at the center of the story presumably isn't meant to be seriously, as the killer's identity is patently obvious once he's spotted in the bushes (seriously; after seeing his eyes in close-up, it becomes fairly clear who did the deed). But in revealing who the murderer is so early in the game, the film loses a big part of what generally makes these types of movies so enjoyable (that being the opportunity to try and guess who's behind the crime). Still, the actors seem to be having fun and Levy even contributes a humorous cameo, so there are worse ways to spend 90 minutes.

out of

About the DVD: Unfortunately, Once Upon a Crime is the latest MGM release to be cursed with a full-frame transfer (and a bad one at that; the opening credits are cut off at the sides!) Extras are limited to a five-minute featurette that looks as though it was produced around the time of the film's original release, and a trailer.