MOVIE REVIEW : ‘Once Upon a Crime’ Lacks for Classic Savoir-Faire


“Once Upon a Crime” (selected theaters) is a good example of the dangers today in trying to go classic. It’s a throwback movie--an all-star romantic crime comedy set in Monte Carlo, with three couples, a dachshund and a gigolo involved in a murder--and though it doesn’t really work, there are enjoyable things about it.

Most of the cast attack their roles with gusto, especially John Candy as an obsessive gambler and Jim Belushi and Cybill Shepherd as ultra-materialist American tourists. Sean Young, Ornella Muti, Richard Lewis also show up and George Hamilton does his best shtick, his vacuous fashion-plate gigolo bit. The locations are attractive, shot by the great sexagenarian Italian cinematographer, Giuseppe Rotunno (“Rocco and His Brothers,” “Roma”). And there’s an unusually good, up-tempo score--big, brassy, Burt Bacharach-style--by Richard Gibbs.

Yet “Crime,” dumped unceremoniously into the theaters last Friday without press screenings, obviously has a “loser” tag around its neck, and it’s easy to see why. It’s a movie that tries to do something clever and tricky and doesn’t quite succeed, as opposed to all those movies that try to something stupid or trivial and succeed admirably. Trying to be slick and smart, “Crime” has no defenses when its smartness breaks down. And you can easily see where the mystery-story logic falls apart, the performances get strained, or the director, Eugene Levy, can’t maintain an overall rhythm or style.


“Once Upon a Crime” is based on the 1960 Italian comedy, “Crimen” (“And Suddenly There’s Murder”), and the difference between Levy and producer Dino De Laurentiis making a movie like this now and director Mario Camerini and company making “Crimen” way back in 1960--during the heyday of Italian movie comedy--is considerable. There are traces of Blake Edwards: a few Clouseau-style slapstick lighter gags with Inspector Giancarlo Giannini. But the script, another tag-team affair partially involving Charles Shyer and Nancy Meyers, begins to unravel a third of the way through. And the direction lacks overall design, the sure-handed stylization that only comes when comedies like this are more a rule than an exception.

A comic actor himself, Levy obviously has fun working with people like Candy and Belushi. There’s a scene--with those two careening across the grand casino floor, screaming at each other maniacally and madly placing bets on three different tables--that shows how “Crime” could have worked but doesn’t. When genres--romantic comedies or elegant thrillers--are functioning well, the movies, in a way, seem to dictate themselves.

‘Once Upon a Crime’

Augie: John Candy

Neil: Jim Belushi

Marilyn: Cybill Shepherd

Phoebe: Sean Young

Julian: Richard Lewis

Inspector Bonnard: Giancarlo Giannini

Alfonso: George Hamilton

A Dino De Laurentiis presentation, released by Metro Goldwyn Mayer. Director Eugene Levy. Producer Dino De Laurentiis. Executive producer Martha De Laurentiis. Screenplay by Charles Shyer, Nancy Meyers, Steve Kluger. Cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno. Editor Patrick Kennedy. Music Richard Gibbs.

Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.

MPAA-rated PG.