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MOVIE REVIEW : Hard 'Knocks' for Dana Carvey

March 30, 1990|PETER RAINER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dana Carvey is such a blissfully twerpy presence on "Saturday Night Live" that his astonishing, Peter Sellers-like gift for mimicry is an added comic bonus. In his Church Lady and George Bush characterizations, he raises clenched WASP rectitude to dizzying satiric heights.

In director Donald Petrie's "Opportunity Knocks" (citywide), Carvey has his first starring role in the movies. It's clearly meant to capitalize on his SNL personas; he gets a chance to impersonate an East Indian, a Japanese, and George Bush--though not Church Lady. The results ought to be, if nothing else, an orgy of Carvey Characters, but few of his impersonations take hold.

And when he's not dithering with some funny accent he's playing an affable con man with a heart of gold. He's supposed to be a romantic leading man here, and if there's one thing Carvey shouldn't be playing right now, it's romantic leads. Nothing kills comedy quicker than all this blubbery, ardent "sincerity."

The plot has Carvey's Eddie and, later, his con-artist buddy Lou (Todd Graff) taking up residence in the ritzy suburban Chicago house they've broken into. The owner's mother (Doris Belack) mistakes Eddie for her son's house sitter--and best friend from college. The father (Robert Loggia) is so taken with Eddie, whom he believes to be a hot-shot Harvard MBA type, that he secures him a vice presidency in his flagging bathroom fixtures company. And their physician daughter (Julia Campbell), initially skeptical of Eddie's supposed womanizer rep, also falls for him.

Alas, Eddie falls for her, too. Since this whole scam is supposed to be a "love con"--that is, Eddie sets out to wangle Dad's fortune by wooing the daughter--his true-love stirrings threaten to ruin everything.

They do more than ruin his scam; they ruin the movie. Carvey doesn't have the flair or the dramatic heft to portray a heartfelt romancer, and the script, by Mitchell Katlin and Nat Bernstein, doesn't provide the situations that might turn Eddie's seductions into something newfangled and funny.

Nothing about "Opportunity Knocks" (rated PG-13) is newfangled; the jokes and plot mechanisms are moldy, even the characters are retreads. Robert Loggia's familial tycoon, for example, is a recap of his role in "Big."

If you want to see Carvey do his George Bush impression, why haul yourself through this movie when you can just tune in to "Saturday Night Live"? Carvey is a wonderful lightweight joker who needs a tailor-made vehicle to shine. "Opportunity Knocks" is strictly off the rack.

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