Peter Bogdanovich is the director . . . or is that choreographer . . . of "Noises Off," a door-slamming farce that has extended sequences of complicated slapstick so chaotic they make his 1972 comedy "What's Up, Doc?" seem positively calm.
The story has a troupe of actors doing out-of-town tryouts with a broadway-bound British sex farce. Adapted from a stage hit, the bulk of "Noises Off . . . " is made up of three lengthy set-pieces - a dress-rehearsal with interruptions, a performance with lots of backstage pantomime and a pre-Broadway performance that falls apart.
The ensemble cast tries very hard, with those who are playing stage actors essentially performing in two roles: Michael Caine is the exasperated stage director; Carol Burnett is the older star; Christopher Reeve is the insecure, dim leading man; John Ritter is Burnett's younger co-star lover ; Marilu Henner is an intelligent professional; Julie Hagerty and Mark-Linn Baker are stagehands; Denholm Elliott is an aging alcoholic; and Nicollette Sheridan is the ingenue who spends most of the movie in her underwear.
The main problem here is the film's length. The three, very long set-pieces probably work on stage because the precision necessary to juggle the complicated slapstick is difficult to sustain, and live audiences are likely as amazed as they are amused as it builds. But on film, even with Bogdanovich playing out parts with no cutaways, it's clausrophobic and doesn't build. Simply trimming the film by 15 minutes might have made an enormous difference.
"Noises Off . . . " is rated PG-13 for profanity, vulgarity, sexual jokes and comic violence.