January 15, 1990 12:00 PM

Robert De Niro, Sean Penn

There’s a curiosity value to this film, as the estimable De Niro and Penn try to pull off an urbanized American variation on Laurel and Hardy. De Niro does all the broad Hardy takes—he hardly stops mugging for a minute—while Penn is all innocent-faced and ersatz lovable.

They are handicapped a bit, though, by the fact that they are surrounded by no noticeable movie.

They play two small-time cons in New England in the 1930s. They escape from prison and end up impersonating Roman Catholic priests. They meet a foul-talking local woman, Demi Moore, mill around with the head of the local church, Hoyt Axton, and keep trying to make it to Canada and safety.

This sounds more interesting than it plays. David Mamet, a dynamite playwright but an erratic movie writer, provides neither inspiring ideas nor interesting language. Director Neil (Mona Lisa) Jordan provides picturesque settings—from locations in British Columbia—but only the clunkiest of pacing.

De Niro and Penn are so skilled they keep up a surprising level of interest but halfway through the movie, it becomes clear that it is going to keep chasing its tale.

The title and a hint of the plot come from a 1954 film made by Casablanca director Michael Curtiz and starring Humphrey Bogart and Peter Ustinov. (PG-13)

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