Picks and Pans Review: The Misadventures of Mr. Wilt

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

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

Griff Rhys Jones, Mel Smith

Very broad, very British and very amusing, this comedy mystery is essentially a Hitchcock send-up that could have been called Dial S for Slapstick.

Jones and Smith (a British comedy team) play a nagged-to-distraction college professor and an ambitious but slow-witted police detective, who thinks the prof (Jones) has murdered his wife.

Be advised at the outset that the intellectual level of the proceedings is not lofty: One man complains, "That's what I get for marrying a dyke," and then someone asks if he is calling his wife a lesbian. "Certainly not," the man replies huffily. "She has all the phone numbers. She can call one herself."

Then there's the scene where Smith, following a potential lead, goes into an adult bookstore. After gaping at the array of "marital aids," he does a take and asks the proprietor, "Do people buy tartan dildos?" "That," says the indignant shop owner, "is my thermos."

Jones affects a haughty disdain that would do John Cleese proud, even as he conducts his technical-college class for apprentice sausage makers, a course that, he notes, "covers politics, literature, CPR and how to open a bank account." Smith is a classic music-hall humbler, a comic talent who is worthy of being mentioned in the same sentence with Oliver Hardy and Peter Sellers.

Alison (The Adventures of Baron Munchausen) Steadman is fun as Jones's wife, who is addicted to a variety of fleeting obsessions, from trampolining, scuba diving and tennis to T'ai Chi and health foods. When Jones complains to her, she scoffs, "I'm sure you're irritable because your colon is clenched."

Steadman's disappearance in the midst of a series of stranglings—the disappearance is a mystery to the audience as well as to Smith—gets intertwined with a missing inflatable plastic sex doll. While a long sequence in which Jones gets physically attached to the doll is the film's silliest (also most tiresome) segment, nothing else is what you would call sobersided either.

Taken from Tom Sharpe's novel Wilt and directed by Michael (TV's Summer of My German Soldier) Tuchner with a no-pratfalls-barred attitude, this is an accomplished small comedy—in tone and aspiration something like the recent American film I Love You to Death.

It is just the kind of thing for someone who might find it funny to hear an exasperated police inspector say, "I'll have my evidence if I have to search every sausage in the south of England!" (Not rated)

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