Picks and Pans Review: Tune in Tomorrow...

updated 11/12/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/12/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

Peter Falk, Barbara Hershey, Keanu Reeves

The movie equivalent of a lollipop with a tart center, this is a mostly sweet comedy with a touch of satiric bite.

Adroitly adapted by novelist William Boyd from Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa's Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, it is about an itinerant '50s radio soap-opera writer, Falk, who travels from town to town conjuring up new plots that depend on sexual excess and ethnic insults.

Here he settles at a seedy radio station in New Orleans, where Reeves, a newswriter, is developing a crush on his free-spirited, older aunt-by-marriage, Hershey. Falk match-makes for Reeves and Hershey, mostly to give himself inspiration (he secretly tape records their trysts, for instance), then extrapolates their courtship into his soap plot, which involves two outlandish relationships, one between a brother and a sister, the other between the sister's husband and her mother. Interspersed are idle slurs directed at Albanians, as in "I'd rather be an Albanian goat salesman than leave you."

The radio station's cast for its soap is a glum bunch of aging actors, but Falk fantasizes a more appropriate group, who show up on screen in movie-within-movie fashion and include Peter Gallagher, Elizabeth McGovern, John Larroquette and Hope Lange, all of them camping it up happily.

Director Jon {Queen of Hearts) Amiel and Boyd winningly transpose Vargas Llosa's musings about the nature of his work. When Reeves accuses Falk of exploiting him, Falk shrugs and says that's how writers are: "You feed off us. We feed off you."

Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis wrote the appropriately loose, vaguely bluesy score, and appears on-camera in a club band.

While there are times when Amiel larks it up too much, this is a pleasant distraction, ideal for those who can never quite remember whether it's supposed to be life that imitates art or the other way around. (PG-13)

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