Picks and Pans Review: Quick Change

updated 07/23/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/23/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Bill Murray, Geena Davis, Randy Quaid, Jason Robards

Mixing pratfall slapstick and soft-boiled egghead wit, this engaging comedy is the best thing to hit the New York Anti-Chamber of Commerce since The Out-of-Towners.

Its premise is that Murray, a frustrated city official, takes hostages and robs a bank so he can afford to flee New York City's crowds, rudeness, crime, noise, dirt and general lack of the qualities associated with civilized societies. Murray, and his co-director, Howard Franklin, who wrote the screenplay, make it funny even without harpooning such fish-in-a-Big-Apple-barrel as George Steinbrenner, Donald Trump or Al Sharpton. (The comedy is, if anything, too nice.)

The opening is inspired, with Murray doing the robbery in clown costume. When a disillusioned bank guard, Bob Elliott (of Bob and Ray), asks, "What kind of a clown are you?" Murray shrugs, "I guess I'm just the kind who's crying on the inside."

Elliott is a marvel of attitude (gruff and self-serving) and timing (impeccable). When Murray tells the hostages he'll be releasing one of them soon, the aging Elliott jumps up to call out, "Oldest first!"

The movie loses some snap after the first 20 minutes, but it is full of small roles played perfectly, from Tony Shalhoub as a cabbie who speaks no English (or any identifiable language) to Philip Bosco as a bus driver whom Murray, during a halting getaway, calls "the evil twin of Ralph Kramden."

It would spoil some fun to describe how Davis and Quaid fit into the plot. In any case, Davis is getting funnier all the time. Quaid's contortable face and jumble of a body make him a natural film comic. And, noble actor that he is, Robards plays straight man as the police commissioner who turns Murray's case into a crusade.

As for Murray, he still has the disarming look of a pup who tilts his head lovably before nipping your finger. And few actors can turn a line around as well as he can; here he is well into a romantic reminiscence when he says, "And then you gave me that look that says, 'I blame you for everything.' "

He and Franklin, adapting a novel by Jay Cronley, underplay such sight gags as cops dusting the clown's balloons for fingerprints; they never confuse mere tastelessness with wit. It's uncomfortably similar to Cadillac Man, but Quick Change sustains its momentum up to the last, neatly turned kicker of a line. Liza and Frank never spread the news about New York so enjoyably. (R)

From Our Partners