September 09, 1985 12:00 PM

The mystery comedy was a staple of movies in the ’30s and ’40s. Think of The Thin Manor The Falcon series, Van Heflin in Grand Central Murder or the lighter Bob Hope-Paulette Goddard romp, Ghost Breakers. Then television, from Mr. and Mrs. North to McMillan and Wife, pretty much exhausted the genre in much the same way it exhausted the Western. That’s why it comes as such a pleasant surprise to see this breezy whodunit about the murder of a philandering Long Island dentist. Most of its charm comes from its cast, headed by Susan Sarandon as an ex-reporter turned housewife turned amateur detective, Raul Julia as a homicide cop, Edward Herrmann as Sarandon’s lawyer husband and Judith Ivey as a wisecracking artist who thinks any woman not having an adulterous affair is peculiar. Susan Isaacs’ script, adapted from her 1978 novel, simultaneously manages to build suspense and stay playful. She also allows a bantering attraction to develop between Sarandon and Julia, once he gets over being infuriated with her interference. There’s also an effectively biting scene between Sarandon and Herrmann, who wishes his wife would spend more time on her cooking and less on her sleuthing. Director Frank (Monsignor) Perry too often lets the comedy overwhelm the mystery, going for broad caricatures and dwelling on lines that would have been a lot better off thrown away. Still, if you want something a little sexier and a lot better acted than anything you’re likely to see on television in the next 90 minutes, here is a diverting escape. (R)

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