September 12, 1988 12:00 PM

Universal Pictures has been putting off the release of this Paul (Down and Out in Beverly Hills) Mazursky comedy since spring. Such delays usually bespeak disaster. Surprise. Mazursky’s Moon is a daffy delight. A New York actor, played by Richard Dreyfuss, is coerced into impersonating the late dictator of Parador, a fictional Caribbean country. Parador’s Harvard-educated chief of police, suavely acted by Raul (Kiss of the Spider Woman) Julia, does the coercing by threatening to kill Dreyfuss if he doesn’t do as he’s told. Deadpans Dreyfuss: “You’d make a very good director.” That joke cuts to the merry heart of the matter. Director Mazursky and co-screenwriter Leon Capetanos have made a film about acting, not politics. Mazursky, a performer himself (he dons drag to play the dictator’s mother), knows about the care and feeding of fragile egos. Dreyfuss, who won an Oscar for a similar struggling-thespian role in 1977’s The Goodbye Girl, expertly captures the fear of an actor who looks a part he’s unqualified to play. (Hmmm. Maybe this movie is about politics after all.) The applause he wins after making a speech as the dictator swells his confidence, as does his success in the bedroom with the dictator’s mistress, gorgeous Sonia Braga. But a shot from a revolutionary’s gun sets him instantly aquiver. Dreyfuss’s richly funny performance is abetted by goofball cameos from Jonathan Winters as a CIA operative, Spanish actor Fernando Rey as the dictator’s valet and goochy-goochy Charo as the maid. Silly? You bet. But Mazursky’s affection for these hambones on parade makes Parador a place of inspired lunacy. (PG-13)

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