Thursday, June 17, 2010

'The Cheap Detective' brings mystery and mirth

The Cheap Detective (1978)
Starring: Peter Falk, Louise Fletcher, Madeline Kahn, Marsha Mason, Eileen Brennan, James Coco, Ann-Margaret, Ferndando Lamas, Dom Deluise, John Houseman, Nicol Williams, Stockard Channing, and Sid Ceaser
Director: Robert Moore
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

The year 1939 is not turning out to be a good one for gumshoe Lou Peckinpaugh (Falk). His partner has been murdered and he's the prime suspect because he's been having an affair with his wife (Mason). But before he can clear his name, he first has to solve the mystery of some missing Albanian diamonds, stop the Nazi consul to Cincinatti (Williams) from destroying the French restraunt being run by the current husband (Lamas) of an old flame (Fletcher), and avoid getting too entangled with overheated vamps (Kahn and Brennan) or his demure secretary (Channing).

"The Cheap Detective" is a spoof of hardboiled detective tales and the film noir pictures from the 1940s and 1950s, and it plays as though the script emerged after someone tossed the movies "The Maltese Falcon" and "Casablanca", a collection of the Complete Works of Dasheil Hammett, and some copies of MAD Magazine into a blender set on high.

The result is a hilarious, but uneven, movie that's loaded with absurd situations, ridiculous puns, and a crazy, chaotic storyline that anticipates comedies like "Airplane" and "The Naked Gun". If you're a fan of those movies, you're bound to enjoy this one. The film starts weak--with a gag involving a killer so efficient his victims don't even fall down when they die stretched so thin in loses all comedy value--and ends with a nonsensical and unfunny scene that seems to exist only to fit in one more cameo, but almost everything between the two badly done bookends is great stuff.

You're also bound to enjoy "The Cheap Detective" if you love the movies and the actors being spoofed. Peter Falk in particular is hilarious with his very effective Humphrey Bogart imitation, but Louise Fletcher's Ingrid Bergman is also great fun, as is Ann-Margaret's generic oversexed femme fatale and Nicol Williams. Much credit also goes, of course, to Neil Simon for the absurd dialogue and even more absurd situations.

Whether you're a fan of classic detective films and the film noir genre, or whether you simply enjoy crazy comedies, I think you'll find something to laugh about in "The Cheap Detective".

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