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Movie Reviews : 'Axe Murderer' Takes a Stab at Angst Comedy

July 30, 1993|MICHAEL WILMINGTON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Fear of sex and fear of marriage have infiltrated movie thrillers and comedies for several years now. Bachelor buddies were everywhere. Voyeurism became chic in "sex, lies, and videotape." Paranoia ran rampant in "Blue Velvet" and "Fatal Attraction." Time was out of joint in "Groundhog Day."

But even in these Angst- ridden times, "So I Married an Axe Murderer" (citywide) pushes Angst hard. A new vehicle for Mike ("Wayne's World") Myers, it's about a vaguely misogynist San Francisco yuppie who becomes convinced that his fiancee, a butcher, is a serial killer. It's a comedy about maniacs: a tasteful murder-comedy, which isn't that laudable a goal.

You can play this kind of story either broadly or subtly, but usually only a genius--a Chaplin, a Lubitsch or a Billy Wilder--can mix approaches in a single film. In "Axe Murderer," the story shifts sluggishly between offbeat, almost lyrical humor and drop-your-pants dig-in-the-ribs gagging. The attack seems both labored and spread-out--sometimes one approach works, sometimes the other--and the result is often a curious, cold mish-mash, oscillating between wit and whoopie-cushion burlesque, quiet charm and buffoonery. It misses more than it hits.

That schizoid tendency extends to the theme, which, at least partially, is about yuppie fear of commitment. And to the actors. There are two Mike Myerses here: Young Mike and Old Mike. Old Mike Myers, buried under several layers of age makeup playing a Scottish San Franciscan named Stuart Mackenzie, is a funny spewer of invective, a gasser. He's broad, obnoxious--but though his burry Scots accent often suggests Gilbert Gottfried doing Sean Connery, he hits his comic targets.

But Young Mike, as Stuart's son, Charlie Mackenzie--the guy who thinks he married an ax murderer--seems unintentionally obnoxious. He keeps pushing the winsomeness buttons down, jamming them up. When Charlie cruises around the city's picturesque North Shore streets in a convertible, ogling women through his shades, he may be intended as a Tom Hanks teddy bear--but he suggests something closer to the kind of sleazy hustler Rob Lowe might have cooked up.

Myers' Charlie is supposed to be a witty, over-sensitive young San Franciscan, genuinely in love with a woman (Nancy Travis) who may have left a trail of death behind her. But often there's something cold and unspontaneous about him. Travis gives a ravishing, sunny-faced performance, but Young Mike doesn't seem to be connecting with her--not even as much as Old Mike connects with the Oscar-winning Irish actress Brenda Fricker as Mrs. Mackenzie, a lewd old flirt in a padded bra.

All this is probably unintentional. When comics become stars and turn into leading men or ladies, they sometimes come across a little cutesy-calculated, like callous seducers spinning phony lines. They seem to be wearing padded sincerity. Comedians are sexy because they're funny; sometimes they forget this.

That's not the only problem with "So I Married an Axe Murderer." Robbie Fox's script--apparently with some embellishments from Myers and others--builds erratically, a nightmarish little romance, into which rowdy skits are occasionally inserted. And there's a twist at the end that smacks of some "Fatal Attraction" boogie-woman bashing--even as the movie is trying to hold up a "commitment" banner.

Director Thomas Schlamme, who did a wonderful job with the cast--Holly Hunter, Tim Robbins, Alfre Woodard--in his adaptation of Beth Henley's "Miss Firecracker," is an actor's director. He gets some nice moments here from cast members like Travis, Fricker, Alan Arkin (as a melancholy police captain, forced to be a hard guy) Amanda Plummer (wasted, as Travis' sister), and walk-on cameo guests Charles Grodin, Michael Richards and Stephen Wright.

But Schlamme seems uncomfortable here, especially when the skits take over. If there are several sensibilities rattling around "Axe Murderer" (MPAA-rated PG-13), they're not always in sync. And they don't always show enough self-awareness. When Myers drops his pants halfway through the movie--something which, after his "Wayne's World" skivvies scene, now seems de rigeur --you might get the idea he wants everybody to applaud his bottom. Actually, his Scots accent is sexier.

'So I Married an Axe Murderer'

Mike Myers: Charlie & Stuart Mackenzie

Nancy Travis: Harriet Michaels

Anthony LaPaglia:Tony Giardino

Amanda Plummer: Rose Michaels

A TriStar Pictures presentation of a Fried/Woods films production. Director Thomas Schlamme. Producers Robert N. Fried, Cary Woods. Executive producer Bernie Williams. Screenplay by Robbie Fox. Cinematographer Julio Macat. Editors Richard Halsey, Colleen Halsey. Costumes Kimberly Tillman. Music Bruce Broughton. Production design John Graysmark. Art director Michael Rizzo. Set designer Barbara Mesney. Set decorators Peg Cummings, Jim Poynter. Running time: 1 hour, 93 minutes.

MPAA-rated PG-13 (for nudity, language and mock terror).

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