March 04, 1991 12:00 PM

John Goodman, Peter O’Toole

Take a guy named Ralph who’s a big Cubs fan and make him a king. Let him have and do whatever he wants.

Have to love the concept.

In execution this is a mildly diverting comedy, even though writer-director David S. (Major League) Ward has burdened it with a pace bordering on the mucilaginous.

Goodman plays a ne’er-do-well Las Vegas lounge singer with a few droplets of English blood who accedes to the British kingship when the whole royal family is wiped out in a group-portrait accident. O’Toole is the very proper retainer whose job it is to guide Goodman’s on-the-throne training and fend off the ambitious John Hurt, a member of the House of Lords who has designs on the royal job himself.

Hurt wants to restore the Stuart family to the throne, but Goodman is supposed to be a distant appendage of the line the film labels Wyndham, presumably to spare the sensibilities of the real-life royal Windsors. Indeed, the whole film is dampered by an unduly solemn attitude toward the monarchy. It cries out for a Pythonite to supply satirical perspective.

Still, Goodman plays it broadly enough to be enjoyable—especially at a formal banquet where he sings a raucous version of “Good Golly, Miss Molly” and in an investiture scene in which he slices a new knight’s ear in mid-dub. O’Toole is a model foil of comically resigned dignity: When Goodman tells him he has some redecorating ideas in mind for Buckingham Palace. O’Toole dryly replies, “We’ll put the velour industry on full standby.”

Camille (Nuns on the Run) Coduri is the commoner—and failed stripper—Goodman develops a crush on. Their relationship, though, suffers particularly from Ward’s poky transitions and the dead-calm environment with which he surrounds his cast.

There”s also an awfully melodramatic I closing sequence where Goodman has to deliver an “I have done my best to learn the I ways of royalty” speech. It’s worth sitting through, though, if only to hear Goodman finish by singing “Duke of Earl.” (PG-13)

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