August 30, 1982 12:00 PM

Ron Howard is a kind of reverse Dorian Gray; no matter how many grittily realistic projects the 28-year-old director of this film attempts, most of us still see him as the ageless Opie of The Andy Griffith Show or as Richie Cunningham of Happy Days. Directing this film about prostitution and mortuary science should have vaulted him at last into the R-rated world. Alas, the hookers and the morgue in Night Shift are a facade for an amiable, sitcommish comedy. Henry Winkler, whose film career has not made people forget the Fonz, either, stars as a meticulous, self-effacing morgue attendant. He eagerly shows a picture of his plain, neurotic fiancée to everyone, explaining, “The picture doesn’t do her justice. She’s suffering from water buildup.” His mother “goes to a séance every Friday night since my father died just so she can still yell at him.” Winkler remains appealingly apologetic in the face of life’s degradations. But as the film bounces along and the character becomes more indignant, he loses his charm. Newcomer Michael Keaton, on the other hand, is consistently pleasing as the wacked-out hustler who talks Winkler into running a call girl service out of the morgue. The writers, TV veteran Lowell (Laverne and Shirley) Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, add enough eccentrics and offbeat situations to keep things interesting. This is a summertime penny candy film, bereft of significance but not entirely lacking in charm. And don’t worry, Aunt Bee, it doesn’t deserve this rating. (R)

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