March 20, 1989 12:00 PM

Teri Garr, John Lithgow

Like an episode of the old Alfred Hitchcock Presents TV show with a little sex thrown in, or Body Heat with most of the sex taken out, this murder farce relies on guile, irony and, mostly, the strength of personality of its cast. And since the guile and irony levels are, in this case, not all that high, it’s just as well that the versatile and resourceful Garr, Lithgow and Randy Quaid are around. Garr plays a slatternly housewife who seems to be in an infidelity contest with her macho porker husband, Bruce (Silkwood) McGill. McGill is a partner in a butcher shop with his old Army buddy, the milquetoasty Lithgow, who lusts after Garr in an honorable way. Quaid enters in as a seventh-rate private eye Garr hires to spy on her husband so she can get evidence for a divorce.

Directed by Englishman Malcolm (A Private Function) Mowbray in a sly manner that at its best moments brings Hitchcock to mind without blatantly mimicking him, the film includes a series of quiet little surprises and twists, some slapstick and a little nastiness. Occasionally it flops over the dividing line into foolishness, and the pleasures of the movie come not so much from what the lines say as the way they’re said. (Neither of the co-screenwriters, George Malko or Leonard Glasser, has any overwhelming feature credits.) It would ruin part of the fun to reveal who does what to whom and when, but all of the main characters—Garr, Lithgow, Quaid and McGill—are polished at this kind of offhandedness. So rest assured that it is well and wryly said when one of the principals shoots another at point blank range, then explains to his/her accomplice, “It was an accident, darling. A lucky accident.” (R)

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