Film review: Tall Guy, The

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 11 1990 12:00 a.m. MST

If you're a Monty Python fan, lower your expectations a notch. We're more in Benny Hill territory here.

"The Tall Guy" is a British comedy about an American actor (Jeff Goldblum) who has spent six years on the London stage playing straight man to an obnoxious but enormously popular comic (Rowan Atkinson), who abuses him both on and off the stage.

Goldblum has become so frustrated in this dead-end job that he has begun sneezing as an allergic reaction every time he has to go on stage.

But his life seems to be taking a turn for the better when he meets a forthright nurse (Emma Thompson) at the clinic where he goes for allergy treatment.

Then, his professional life also takes a turn when he unexpectedly gets the lead in a musical stage adaptation of "The Elephant Man" — an elephantine production titled "Elephant!"

But success changes him and puts his romance with Thompson in jeopardy.

This being a most uneven romantic comedy, however, you can count on a happy ending.

Director Mel Smith, a rotund comic best known in this country for a brief role in "The Princess Bride" (he was the pale dungeon torturer); screenwriter Richard Curtis, who spent much of his time in British television with Smith; and Atkinson, who really is an enormously popular comic in England and whose early television career was in association with Smith and Curtis, have crafted a wild comedy where no joke is too low and no pun too easy. They seem to think that just showing Goldblum in a tutu is good for a big laugh.

But the result is a very mixed bag.

The highlights here are easily the staged "Elephant!" sequences, with some very funny sendups of the gargantuan musicals of Andrew Lloyd Webber ("Phantom of the Opera"). And Goldblum is an appealing comic actor who gets to do some funny bits of business here and there. There are also some funny one-liners scattered about, as when Goldblum notes that despite 73 percent of actors being unemployed, "Roger Moore is still working."

But there are also a lot of woefully lame bits, some lethargic sequences and a surprising amount of exploitive sex and nudity.

If you're in the mood, you'll get some solid laughs from "The Tall Guy," but be prepared also to moan a lot. And occasionally you may find yourself looking at your watch.

"The Tall Guy" is rated R for sex, nudity, profanity and vulgarity, along with some comic violence.