'Undertaking Betty'

Deliberate silliness is hard to sustain, but "Undertaking Betty" pretty much succeeds, albeit in a minor way that's more likely to play better as home viewing than in a theater — which may be why it sat on Miramax's shelf for three years. Under Nick Hurran's direction, a first-rate cast headed by Albert Molina, Brenda Blethyn, Naomi Watts and Christopher Walken gets into the zany spirit of Frederick Ponzlov's script.

As young people in the small Welsh city of Wrottin-Powys, population 7,500, Molina's Boris Plotz and Blethyn's Betty Rhys Jones were mutually smitten and shared a passion for ballroom dancing, but the dutiful Betty's father insisted she marry Robert Pugh's pompous Hugh, who was actually interested in Betty only as an heiress. Seventeen years into their marriage, Hugh has become the town mayor, carrying on a torrid affair with his sexy secretary (Watts) while Betty is stuck caring for his terrible bedridden mother. But when her mother-in-law at last dies, Betty is brought in close contact again with Boris, the local undertaker. (A subplot has Walken cast as a brash American mortician intent on putting Boris out of business as his first step in taking over the funeral industry in Wales with his hard-charging promotional tactics and his cockamamie funerals, as flashy as Vegas revues.) Just as Watts' mercenary mistress starts dreaming of eliminating Betty, Boris is persuading Betty to play dead so that they can run off together. This is when the fun gets underway in earnest.

"Undertaking Betty," Rated R for some sexual content. Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes. Exclusively at the Crest Theater Nov. 12-18, screening at 10 a.m. only. 1262 Westwood Blvd., Westwood, (310) 474-7866.

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