`Keeping Mum' is nothing to talk about

review D

October 06, 2006|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,Sun Movie Critic

Slickness can turn anything into formula - even eccentricity, in the case of the handsome and entirely unfunny British farce Keeping Mum. The script by American novelist Richard Russo and the film's director, Niall Johnson, rests on the idea that murder performed with discretion can remedy all sorts of household woes. And I do mean "rests." The movie is a premise in search of a comedy. Rather than flesh it out, the filmmakers put familiar glad rags on the skull and bones.

Even the casting is too on the nose. The great Maggie Smith has said she's "quite good at playing spiky elderly ladies" - and has, too often, in everything from the Sister Act movies to the Harry Potter films.

As the practitioner of this film's therapeutic homicide, she does nothing she hasn't done 10 times better in other movies. The cocksure old gal has just been released from a hospital for the criminally insane after spending 40 years there for slaughtering her husband and his mistress. Now she becomes the housekeeper for the Goodfellow family in the cozy village of Little Wallop (population 57) - a Mary Poppins out of Hellzapoppin'.

She immediately starts solving the problems of the bumbling Rev. Walter Goodfellow (Bean's Rowan Atkinson, of course, who broke through to U.S. audiences as Father Gerald in Four Weddings and a Funeral), his coolly beautiful and inexplicably neglected wife Gloria (Kristin Scott Thomas, naturally), and their two children, a nymphomaniac 17-year- old daughter and a young son who's a magnet for bullies.

There's a promise of hipness in the appearance of Patrick Swayze as an American golf pro who hopes to take Gloria away from all this, but Swayze gets to do little except show what a good sport he is parading around in scanty underwear. The humor rarely rises above the Internet jokes that the vicar uses to spice up a talk at a clerical conference. Keeping Mum may try to create slapstick mayhem out of improvisational executions, but as a film it's deadly.

michael.sragow@baltsun.com

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