March 02, 1981 12:00 PM

Oriental groups have leveled charges of racism against this stereotyped comedy, but it is lovers of the old Charlie Chan movies who should holler. Peter Ustinov cuts a fine figure as the famed sleuth, so it’s not his fault shrewd Charlie is reduced to a sitcom cop. Chan, based on a real Chinese detective, was created by novelist Earl Derr Biggers and first appeared in films in a 1926 silent serial, played by George Kuwa. There have been seven major Chans since: Kamiyama Sojin, E.L. Park, Warner Oland, Sidney Toler, Roland Winters, J. Carrol Naish and Ross Martin. Director Clive (What’s New, Pussycat?) Donner and writers Stan Burns and David Axlerod haven’t provided enough wit or wisdom here to stuff a fortune cookie. The plot focuses on Chan’s clumsy No. 1 Grandson, who’s half Chinese and half Jewish, played by WASP-y Richard (Battlestar Galactica) Hatch. Young Chan has his lox and eggs with soy sauce and wants to follow in Grandpop’s footsteps. Instead Hatch and his fiancée (Michelle Pfeiffer) are kidnapped by villainess Angie Dickinson. At one point Chan advises: “When faced with the obvious, look elsewhere.” Ah so. (PG)

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