Radioland Murders is one of those movies that you rent not expecting much. You know of a few members of the cast, but the leads aren't anybody special. The description on the box is vague comedy "it's funny as heck" stuff. Yawn. You've probably seen this movie done a little differently before, right?
Well, possibly, but only if you're 70. This is a throwback to the days of vaudeville antics, a time where plots were only incidental to wacky hi-jinks. George Lucas (yes, that George Lucas) apparently had been sitting on this movie for years before he finally decided to make it. I'm glad he did. It's a comic riot, and you can print that on the back of your cardboard video sleeve.
A "fourth network" is opening, and its not The WB. This is 1939, during the glory days of radio. The best writer, Roger (Brian Benben), is trying to patch together his marriage to Penny (Mary Stuart Masterson), the station owner's secretary and the only person with a clear head in the entire building. However, Rog has more things on his mind than his muddled matrimony. The main sponsor wants ALL of the night's shows rewritten, his co-writers (including Peter MacNicol and Bobcat Goldthwait) are threatening to strike for lack of pay, and - oh, right - a murderer is killing key people in the station. Unfortunately, Roger has this very bad habit of getting himself caught near the victims, and he quickly becomes the Prime Suspect.
Radioland Murders is loaded with great performances, not the least of which is Benben. His comic timing is impeccable, reminding me of a clean-faced Groucho Marx. His physicality is also genius... I wondered to myself how...how...how this guy could have his last television show cancelled so quickly? He does some fantastic reparteé with the cops, and his daring feats during his personal detective work and necessary escapes is up there with Chaplin and Keaton for blockbuster comic imagery.
The supporting cast, full of minor stars, is great. Included in the gallery are such talents as Christopher Lloyd, Ned Beatty, Michael McKean, Jeffery Tambor, and Larry Miller. The legendary George Burns pops up for a bit, as does Joey Lawrence (playing a young Sinatra-esque crooner) and Billy Barty (doing his bit in an affectionate tribute to Spike Jones). Corbin Bernsen plays a egomaniacal announcer, and Michael Lerner does well with his part as a frazzled detective just trying to get the right guy.
It's been far too long since we've had a Big Broadcast kind of movie on the screen, and Radioland Murders revives that format in grand style. Radio days are alive and well again, but only in this nostalgic piece of escapism. You may just want to check it out for yourself.