July 05, 1982 12:00 PM

Remember the classic bystander-embroiled-in-espionage movies, such as Alfred Hitchcock’s The Thirty-Nine Steps and North by Northwest, the Bob Hope vehicle My Favorite Blonde, and Arabesque, with Gregory Peck and Sophia Loren? The director of this film, Sidney Poitier, and his writers, Henry Rosenbaum and David Taylor, obviously do. The problem is, they don’t remember those classics well enough to emulate their verve, tension and wit. Gene Wilder, as a Chicago architect, is linked with a murdered agent and a lost computer tape that holds the key to a weapons project. Gilda Radner plays the Madeleine Carroll/Eva Marie Saint/Loren role. The Grand Canyon has been thrown in instead of Mount Rush-more. The film is still lifeless. The stars resort to yelling and constant double takes to get laughs. Wilder is as endearingly vulnerable as ever; Radner, if she lacks the glamour this kind of role relies on, is always appealing. But we’d all do better to find a revival house that’s showing The Thirty-Nine Steps, and go see it again. (PG)

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