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The Wrong Guy (1997)

by on 2012/07/21

“Well, it looks like Secret Agent, uh, 10, of that elite thing you were talking about, has finally met his match.”

* * *

For a long time now I’ve mistakenly remembered a name from Kids in the Hall. Advancing years and misfiring neurons convinced me they mentioned Colm Feore. Turns out the (female) actor referenced was actually Francesca Fiore (Scott Thompson).

(I was, however, correct about “Mister Wrong Guy!” Kevin McDonald — later cast in The Wrong Guy — says the line in the “accent class” skit.)

Yes, it’s another great Canadian line-up, a gathering of home-grown talent: Feore, McDonald, Boyd Banks (2004‘s Dawn of the Dead), the Barenaked Ladies, Joe Flaherty (SCTV), Dan Redican (The Frantics’ Four on the Floor and Puppets Who Kill), Jennifer Tilly (Bound and Hollywood North), and Kenneth Welsh (Smallville and Twin Peaks). And of course, the Wrong Guy himself, David Foley (Brain Candy) as Nelson Hibbert.

He resides in a version of “Cleveland” — suspiciously screaming “Toronto” — an outgoing pariah who swings between extreme highs and lows. Disappointed when he fails to earn an expected promotion, he threatens the life of his company’s CEO. Which proves inopportune, given the exec is promptly assassinated.

Believing himself to be the prime suspect, Hibbert flees on a beeline for Mexico. If there’s any stupid coincidence, misfortune, or mistake he doesn’t fall victim to en route, then I can’t imagine at the moment what it is. His main problem is his ignorance, for the authorities don’t suspect him at all. Even assuming they did, their negligence would probably work in his favour.

There’s clearly sketch comedy influence here, but the titles, topic, themes, and score evoke a retro mashup: The Fugitive, James Bond, North by Northwest, even It’s a Wonderful Life . . . filtered through the Inspector Clouseau series.

Unfortunately I’ve never been the biggest fan of broad physical slapstick gags. They’re amusing at first, but on repetition, they wear at my funny bone. That said, there are some gems in here I won’t spoil for newcomers.

Repetition is less an issue for the dialogue, though a running joke about the leading man’s gender gets old by the fourth or fifth try. There are awkward moments — like the “Plan B” phone call — but they’re few, and the acting helps spin them. Feore can take the weakest grist and mill it for unexpected rewards.

Foley himself is no Serious Actor — which, to be fair, his role doesn’t require — but the character plays to his undeniable strengths. In fact, his real-life qualities help to redeem what might otherwise have been insufferable. Everybody knows people like Nelson Hibbert, and it’s difficult to appreciate their value. Yet his charm and good will, his convincing naivety, endear us to forgive his idiocy.

The other most recurring part is David Anthony Higgins’. As the willfully inept Detective Arlen, he’s the source of a string of jokes you may likewise find repetitive or reliable.

A rare surprise was the animated title sequence. All geometric shapes and silhouettes, it resembles an impulse! jazz cover brought to life.

Overall I felt nothing was trying too hard. The Wrong Guy plays in service of silliness. By now I’ve seen it often enough, it’s lost some of its luster. Initially hilarious, it’s become familiar instead. There’s comfort here, but not much more than that, about on par with Leslie Nielsen’s Naked Gun. If you don’t go in expecting to discover a five-star experience, it’s still worth seeing at least once for a little light fun.

* * *

Rated 14A

86 minutes

  1. Grushenka Geusebach permalink

    Ah, your subtle little jab in there… Don’t think I missed it. The Wrong Guy is a film classic. Five stars all the way! Wooo!!!

    You – you are the wrong guy. And I am the …not wrong guy. Five stars!!!

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