Imagine Ed Herrmann's predicament. From among all the passengers arriving at Dulles International Airport, he's got to choose one man whom the CIA will believe is a spy. Where to pick? From among the neat Japanese businessmen? The matched pair of rabbis? The confident yuppie black? What about the sweetly puckish guy on the escalator, ordinary in every respect except that only one of his shoes is a bright red sneaker?
So the utterly innocent Tom Hanks has just been dubbed a spy. Not just a simple spy, but a diabolically clever one. He isn't, of course; he's only Mr. Hitchcock's beloved MacGuffin: the thing needed to get the story going. And in the rollicking convolutions of "The Man With One Red Shoe" (citywide) there's rather a lot of story.
Most of it centers around internecine warfare at the CIA. Its director, Charles Durning, has to answer to a Senate committee inquiring why his agency has had its fingers in a massive coke-smuggling operation abroad (the classic, white coke, alas). He must come up with the culprit within 48 hours.
The second set of dirty tricksters is led by Dabney Colemen, a Durning underling who lusts after his boss' job. Chief assistant to Coleman is the beguiling Lori Singer who heads a cadre of spies straight out of Hitchcock, and finds herself slowly drawn to Hanks.
Herrmann, Durning's earnest, gentlemanly aide, is saddled with the job of picking an innocent fall guy who quite realistically may end up dead, or at least stretched considerably as two skilled arms of the CIA grab for him.
In the middle of the muddle is the beatific Hanks: a classical musician; a naif; a charmer. Already hotly pursued by Carrie Fisher, dowdy wife of his best friend, Jim Belushi, Hanks has now become the magnet for both Durning and Coleman who are trying to discredit each other, using and possibly "discarding" Hanks in the process.
"The Man With One Red Shoe" breaks the unlucky streak begun by producer Victor Drai as he naturalized another French comedy "Pardon Mon Affaire" into the abominable "The Woman in Red." (One slight disclaimer: in all the years that "The Tall Blond Man With One Black Shoe" has been around gathering stalwart supporters, I have somehow missed it. Perhaps those who love its drolleries will feel differently about this Americanization too, but I have only Hanks/Singer and company to go by.)
This time the script is by Robert Klane, who has adapted the French screenplay by Francis Veber and Yves Robert with a nice manic sensibility.
Director Stan Dragoti ("Mr. Mom," "Love at First Bite") concentrates more on physical comedy and the inherent absurdities of the spying game than on the growing relationship between the lioness and the lamb. And the physical bits are lovely: Durning, standing with majestic tackiness in a see-through plastic raincoat and umbrella in the middle of his lawn sprinklers--the only safe spot for a conversation in his electronically bugged estate.
Or Singer, coolly leading her troops into Hanks' Georgetown apartment where they reduce the place to rubble like expert South American ants. They're searching for evidence of his spying activities in all the usual places, the rungs of his chairs, the innards of his bathroom plumbing, the seams of his clothes. And when they must decamp unexpectedly, their coverup isn't quite perfect: The plumbing has unexpected glitches. Turn on the faucet, and the shower spurts; to get the faucet to work you must flush the toilet repeatedly.
Hanks endures these peculiarities with an endearing puzzlement that recalls Henry Fonda and James Stewart in their light-comedy days, while Dragoti has, blessedly, had Durning and Coleman underplay instead of running amok, with splendid results. Add to these Herrmann's owlish straight-faced humor and a nice running bit by Gerrit Graham, as the most bloodthirsty of Coleman's gang, and you have a very deft ensemble.
Hanks' support team--his friends and fellow symphony musicians Belushi (percussion) and Fisher (flute)--fares less well. Belushi, in all other circumstances an inspired comedian, seems to be working under water; his timing is oddly dead in patches. Not always, he must bear the brunt of the old disappearing-bodies gag, and this he does wonderfully. At other times he seems to be on a wave length all his own.
Fisher, unmercifully funny as the kvetchy wife in "Garbo Talks," falls heiress to a variation of the thankless role Gilda Radner had in "The Woman in Red." (What is this streak of hatefulness about women other than the exquisite heroines in these French farces?) Fisher does what she can to humanize things in her role as a plain (!) predator, but it ain't much.