''The Tall Guy'' is reminiscent of those comedies the English used to make, films starring Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers. The new film may be a little wackier, a bit more insane than those, but it does remind us of a time when the English were leaders in the movie comedy market.
''The Tall Guy'' will in no way diminish the British reputation for good movie fun. The film, which may also remind some of ''A Fish Called Wanda'' (and before that, the ''Carry On, Doctor'' comedies), stars Jeff Goldblum as an American who has been trying to make it as an actor in London.
He hasn't done all that well. For six years, he has been acting as stooge for a stage comic who is not about to allow his partner the opportunity to win laughs. When Dexter (Goldblum) misses a performance, the comic fires him.
Desperate, Dexter goes to a theatrical agent who suggests that he try for a role in the chorus of ''Elephant!,'' a musical version of ''Elephant Man.''
He gets the job. As the lead character, he comes on in hideous makeup to a tune called ''Here Comes Mr. Disgusting.''
Later, when the Elephant Man dies, the chorus sings about heaven having ''A new angel with big ears.''
That's the way things go in this film, one that only wants its audience to laugh and succeeds throughout. The laughs do begin to subside as the film plays on, but that's the way the producers apparently wanted it, riotous at start, then less so as it moves along.
As the plot within the plot moves ahead, we see another musical number, one in which the members of the chorus, dressed as elephants, do a tap dance. When the Elephant Man dies and the bed begins to rise from the floor, ''The Tall Guy'' kids ''Les Mis'' and all the Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals that have added to the ''bigness'' of the contemporary stage.
Goldblum is up to all this silliness. He isn't about to let any of the laughs die. Nor is Emma Thompson, who was Princess Katherine in Kenneth Branagh's ''Henry V.'' Here, she plays the nurse with whom Dexter falls in love.
Geraldine James is the woman who shares an apartment with Dexter and spends most of her time in bed, her lovers, always naked, prowling the apartment.
''The Tall Guy'' will play the Charles today through Saturday. The title doesn't begin to suggest the fun that is to be had here.
''The Tall Guy''
*** An American actor living in London lands the lead in the musical version of ''The Elephant Man.''
CAST: Jeff Goldblum, Emma Thompson, Rowan Atkinson
DIRECTOR: Richard Curtis
RATING: R (sex, nudity, language)
RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes