According to Terry Thorpe (William H. Macy), a low-rent movie critic in this comedy thriller, there are really only seven viable movie plots circulating Hollywood and even then, they rarely get it right. If that’s the case, this is one of the exceptions.
Based on the novella “A Travesty” by Donald E. Westlake, with a screenplay by Macy and writing partner Steven Schachter, “A Slight Case” is a hilarious sendup of movies and the people who love them. It also serves as a showcase for the versatile Macy, a wiry actor with an inherent knack for comedy.
Pic opens with Thorpe fussing over the body of Laura Penny, a business acquaintance and secret lover. Although her death was an accident, Thorpe decides to flee the scene. Taking his cue from his favorite murder mysteries, Thorpe tries to wipe out any evidence of their relationship, not knowing that all along he is being watched by Edgarson (James Cromwell), a shady private investigator hired by Laura’s jealous husband.
Edgarson tries to blackmail Thorpe, who decides to return the favor. “Let him Hitchcock me, I’ll Spielberg him right back,” Thorpe says.
The cover-up appears to be working, with all fingers pointing at Edgarson, until Thorpe gets involved with fellow movie lover and homicide detective Fred Stapelli (Adam Arkin).
Macy and director Steven Schachter have crafted a clever script, capitalizing on every opportunity to use Thorpe’s career as a way to drop various pop culture references. Although billed as a thriller, viewers aren’t even required to do much thinking; the writing duo provides all necessary information and commentary through Thorpe, who often turns and talks directly to the camera.
Thorpe, we learn, is just a regular guy or, as he explains, an anti-hero, a good man who is tripped up by fate. The irony here is that Thorpe, who in the past has had more than a few harsh words for actors in the same scenario, now has to learn to act innocent in order to escape prosecution. “Have you seen ‘Body Heat?’ ” he asks the camera. “I might owe Bill Hurt an apology.”
Macy is on target with his performance of Thorpe, although inevitable comparisons will be made to his equally bumbling but much more menacing character, Jerry Lundegaard, in “Fargo.” Arkin has the much tougher role of the droll officer who harbors a secret desire to be a screenwriter, but his dry humor offers a healthy balance to Thorpe’s exaggerated comedy. Felicity Huffman, Macy’s real-life wife, plays his too-good-to-be-true innocent girlfriend, and has limited screen time as does Cromwell as the sleazy private eye with the world’s worst comb-over.
Camera work by Andre Pienaar is clever, combining the best and worst of genre films to maximum effect; while Mader’s music score subtly evokes the whimsical nature of the film.