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'Corky Romano'

Special to The Times

While all too many recent "comedies" are so in stated purpose only, "Corky Romano" truly makes you laugh. At its best it recalls the animated antics of a Jerry Lewis escapade, the pratfall follies of a Buster Keaton flick and Rowan Atkinson's outsized physicality. Which isn't to say that "Corky Romano" is a comedy classic--rather it's a trustworthy transport that, as knowingly written by David Garrett and Jason Ward, gets you from here to there without flash or flair but with a certain charm.

And in no small measure this madcap caper about a wayward nebbish infiltrating the FBI works because of its star, Chris Kattan, a "Saturday Night Live" veteran who radiates a sweet, goofy presence. Like such comedy kings as Eddie Cantor, who could be coyly effeminate one minute and surrealistically cagey the next, Kattan flirts with notions of "appropriate" gestures and gender behavior, all the while evoking an inept but lovable loser. Kattan cavorts as a prancing dandy in a stereotypically rendered FBI of macho bravado and amped-up swagger. In fact, Corky's persona turns out to be more than simply a means of self-protection but, itself, an agent of change. Although Corky does toughen up by movie's finish, his incorruptible naivete triumphs as a healing power. Surely during a grim and savage spasm of world history, this is an appealing fantasy. Director Rob Pritts (an award-wining commercials director making his feature debut) refrains from rat-a-tat timing, instead imparting a more meditative pacing. Co-stars Peter Falk, Peter Berg, Chris Penn, Fred Ward, Richard Roundtree and Matthew Glave work as a fine ensemble, playing it broadly, but not so broadly as to take matters irrevocably over the top. Vinessa Shaw as Corky's love interest displays understated comic timing that adds to the picture's confident delivery.

The plot pivots on nice guy/assistant veterinarian Corky Romano (Kattan) reluctantly agreeing to a risky scheme to save his estranged father (Falk), a gravelly voiced mobster called Pops recently indicted by a grand jury. Corky's familial assignment is to go undercover as an FBI man to snatch incriminating evidence implicating Dad in a life of crime. Complicating Corky's mission is the false ID procured by his self-absorbed brothers (Berg, Penn), an ID presenting the mild-mannered vet as a super agent--a Harvard grad who speaks five languages and a decorated sharpshooter who never misses.

Once inside the FBI, Corky bluffs his way through bureau business while assigned a high-level case of a heroin dealer dubbed "the Night Vulture." As Corky carries out this charade, he scrambles to steal the evidence purportedly proving Pop's felonious sins. Simultaneously, Corky falls for curvy blond agent Kate Russo (Shaw), a no-nonsense gal who initially treats him with the cool disdain such cinematic ber- blonds have directed at hapless nerds since screwball comedy's commencement. Complicating matters are the competitive lawmen at the agency (Glave, Roger Fan, Dave Sheridan), who are unsure of what to make of quirky Corky.

Although "Corky Romano" contains its share of witless wisecracks and puerile pranks, it achieves something more than the current crop of would-be funny films. With a great many contemporary comedies mistaking excess for invention and hyperactivity for dynamism, "Corky Romano" displays genuine heart.


MPAA rating: PG-13, for language, drug and sex-related humor. Times guidelines: Some of the material may be inappropriate for younger teens.

'Corky Romano'

Chris Kattan: Corky

Vinessa Shaw: Kate Russo

Peter Falk: Pops

Peter Berg: Paulie

Chris Penn: Peter

Fred Ward: Leo Corrigan

Richard Roundtree: Howard Shuster

Touchstone Pictures presents a Robert Simonds production, released by Buena Vista Distribution. Director Rob Pritts. Screenplay David Garrett & Jason Ward. Producer Robert Simonds. Executive Producer Tracey Trench. Co-producer Ira Shuman. Director of photography Steven Bernstein. Production designer Peter Politanoff. Editor Alan Cody. Costume designer Tom Bronson. Music supervisor Lisa Brown. Music Randy Edelman. Running time: 1 hour, 26 minutes.

In general release.

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