Based on a sketch Dave Foley wrote when he was a member of the comedy troupe the Kids in the Hall, “The Wrong Guy” is occasionally very funny and inspired, but it feels all too much like a good TV skit stretched to feature length. Spoof of “Fugitive”-type action pics looks to have the wrong stuff in terms of box office staying power and is more likely to do the right thing in video and TV markets.
Shot in Toronto in 1996, the Handmade title has been sold to Disney in the U.S., but the studio has still not decided when to launch the pic Stateside. Lions Gate Films opened “The Wrong Guy” with little fanfare Feb. 20 in Toronto and Montreal.
The starting point of “The Wrong Guy” has plenty of comic potential. Nelson Hibbert (Foley) is a nerdy exec at a large Cleveland corporation who is convinced that he’s a shoo-in to become company president. When he is passed over for the top job, he goes ballistic at a management meeting, threatening to do bodily harm to the boss who failed to give him the big promotion. Soon after, he storms into the man’s office to confront him, only to find the chairman slumped over his desk with a knife in his neck.
A hysterical Hibbert grabs the bloody knife and dashes from the office in front of his colleagues. Figuring that everyone will assume he’s the murderer, he concludes that he has no choice but to become a fugitive from the law. What Hibbert doesn’t realize is that the company security cameras caught the actual killer (Colm Feore) in the act.
The far-from-heroic fugitive Hibbert hops on the bus for Mexico and, in a rather preposterous turn of events, always seems to show up in the same place as the real killer. The murderer becomes convinced that Hibbert is a wily secret agent trailing him, while Hibbert never figures out that he is not on any most-wanted lists. The lead cop, Detective Arlen (David Higgins), is a slothful fellow more interested in fine restaurants and exotic escort-service dates than in catching the killer. Plot shifts gears midway when Hibbert ends up stranded in the South helping out a small-town family and falling in love with a narcoleptic woman, Lynn (Jennifer Tilly).
Helmer David Steinberg, who directs mostly for TV (“Seinfeld,” “Mad About You”), keeps the emphasis on goofy gags, making for quite a funny first half. But pic bogs down big-time in the home stretch, when the script falters. Pulling off feature spoofs is never easy, and this comic riff on “The Fugitive” simply does not have the inspired zaniness of a superior satire like “Austin Powers.”
Foley is good, as usual, as a wimpy, effete guy not unlike the character he plays in the sitcom “NewsRadio,” and “Ellen” regular Higgins is funny as the lazy, bumbling cop. Tilly has little to do in her thinly written role as the small-town do-gooder who keeps falling asleep at the most inopportune times.
Lawrence Shragge’s score does a great job of sending up classic, ’60s-style thriller music, and opening credit sequence is a fun mock-homage to Bond-type pics.