Mark Harmon takes a revealing turn in satirical 'Fourth Story'

STEVE MCKERROW

January 19, 1991|By STEVE MCKERROW

It's certainly not "The Maltese Falcon" nor "Chinatown," and it's a somewhat thin echo of "The Thin Man" series. But a new Showtime movie premiering this weekend on the pay-cable network still manages to engagingly straddle the noir and caper genres of those respective detective films.

What's more (for those who care about such things), the hunky buns factor is pretty high in "Fourth Story" (at 9 tonight with repeats through the month). Star Mark Harmon -- he was once People magazine's sexiest man -- parades around in the buff for a good five minutes midway through the film. Co-star Mimi

Rogers is modest by comparison.

The solution to the mystery at the movie's heart is a little muddled and contrived, and is also predictable too early for the action to develop true suspense. But Andrew Guerdat's script is playfully satirical of movie mysteries and TV shows that have gone before.

Harmon plays a private detective hired by Rogers to look for her missing husband. It is clear at the opening credits hers is not a great marriage, and police shortly discover the beaten body of a John Doe in an alley. Thus, experienced viewers are justified in quickly assuming certain theories about hubby's departure, as well as the inevitable attraction between shamus and client.

But there are ample twists to come.

For one thing, Rogers is surprised at Harmon's appearance, as he paws through a cluttered desk looking for his eyeglasses.

"I guess I just expected somebody more like Humphrey Bogart," she says.

Cherished mystery conventions are chided frequently, such as when Harmon says,"I'm a private investigator, why would I have a gun?" And later, he tries to elude a tailing vehicle with a tactic he saw on "The Rockford Files."

A pair of plainclothes officers (Paul Gleason and Michael Boatman) offer some distraction, although they turn out to be a little less dumb than the usual establishment foils for private eyes.

It's not always a comfortable mix, but "Fourth Story" at least has some fun.

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