Picks and Pans Review: The Distinguished Gentleman

updated 12/14/1992 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/14/1992 AT 01:00 AM EST

Eddie Murphy, Lane Smith, Grant Shaud, Sheryl Lee Ralph

Murphy is a thief—pardon, scam artist—who pulls off the hustle of his life in this flat, connect-the-dots saga of a man who goes looking for a con and finds his conscience. When the congressman in his Florida district dies in flagrante delicto, Murphy spots a line opportunity. Isn't a representative's base pay pretty respectable? And isn't there a flotilla of lobbyists and PAC committeemen with bulging wallets who come with the territory? And, more important, isn't his name the same as the late incumbent's? Elected without having to kiss a single baby, Murphy heads north where the streets, or at least the corridors of the Capitol, are indeed paved with bribes, hush money and "honoraria."

Guided by his administrative aide (Shaud, reprising his whiny Murphy Brown role), Murphy sleazes his way onto a committee where the pickings are lush and attaches himself to the corrupt committee head (Smith). Though Murphy doesn't know the issues, all goes swimmingly until he is confronted by a beautiful, principled political activist (Victoria Rowell).

A cross between Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Trading Places, The Distinguished Gentleman tries to make comic capital of every D.C. cliché and stereotype. The congressmen are almost exclusively florid boors who drink hard and sell out easy. But the cynicism of these lawmakers isn't a patch on the cynicism of the filmmakers, who are playing off the public's plaintive hopes for truth, justice and the American way. Matters are not helped by the pacing. Murphy's election is almost as swift and uncomplicated as his transformation from do-nothing to do-gooder, all to the accompaniment of easy, obvious jokes. While The Distinguished Gentleman does permit Murphy to assume different voices and dialects, it fails to showcase the range of his talent. What made him a star was the devil-may-care abandon of his performances. But here, as in this summer's Boomerang, he does everything with a practiced wink, a nudge and his patented heh-heh-heh, taking care that his comedy cross only when the light is green. (R)

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