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Review

'Wild Canaries' sings an old suspense-comedy tune

'Wild Canaries' is too choppy and talky as an homage to suspense-comedies, but the acting is worth a visit

Attempting to capture the screwball essence of the old-school suspense-comedy, most blatantly Woody Allen's "Manhattan Murder Mystery," Lawrence Michael Levine's flighty "Wild Canaries" lacks the filmmaking discipline required to pay effective homage.

When an elderly woman dies suddenly in her Brooklyn apartment, her nosy upstairs neighbor (Sophia Takal) immediately suspects foul play and ropes her initially dubious, neurotic fiancé (Levine) into playing detective, with predictably sticky results.

While it's a time-honored premise — even that 1993 Allen caper took its cue from "The Thin Man" movies — this talky, choppily edited version takes so long to click into gear that when the inevitable mayhem finally does present itself, it feels like an afterthought.

The performances, on the other hand, are quite satisfying.

Writer-director Levine, who as an actor manages to out-whine Woody, and the lively Takal possess a genuine on-screen chemistry (they're married in real life), and Jason Ritter amuses as the building's twitchy, bad-boy landlord.

Also impressing is Alia Shawkat as Takal's lesbian best buddy, who would not-so-secretly prefer to see their friendship taken to another level.

Strip away all the flimsy copycat stuff, including the cheesy retro synth score, and what lurks beneath is a perceptive portrait of contemporary thirtysomething relationships, no silly sleuthing required.

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'Wild Canaries'

MPAA rating: None 

Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes.

Playing: Arena Cinema, Hollywood.

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