The sight of Bill Murray as a tall white-faced clown holding a batch of balloons makes for a lovely, almost poetic image. Between jokes, Murray has always had a gentle air of melancholy; in a strange way, the circus getup completes him. At the beginning of Quick Change, Murray, playing a character named Grimm, saunters into a Manhattan bank in full clown regalia and holds up the place. As he shepherds the customers and bank officials into the vault, he keeps dropping deadpan wisecracks (this is one sad-faced clown who’s cackling on the inside), and his timing is well, Murray-perfect. Soon the police surround the bank asking him to give up his hostages. But Grimm isn’t fazed. He’s as rude to them as he is to his captives.

Quick Change starts out fast and loose — it gets the audience primed for a ripsnorting caper comedy. Yet almost nothing that follows is as clever, as surprising, or as casually anarchic as that nifty opening sequence. Murray himself served as codirector, and though he doesn’t do anything terribly wrong, the movie lacks comic zest.

Grimm, it turns out, is an amateur thief, a former city planner who has grown disgusted with his life in New York. The film is about what happens when he escapes from the bank along with two comrades-in-crime: his girlfriend (Geena Davis), who, unbeknownst to him, is pregnant, and his buddy (Randy Quaid), a pea-brained doofus who’s like an overgrown, hyperkinetic son to them. The three have managed to steal a million in cash, but once they’re on the lam, nothing goes right: They can’t find the expressway, they’re held up at gunpoint, they get a foreign taxi driver who doesn’t know where the airport is…

As a comic, Murray thrives on enemies. His raised-eyebrow sarcasm has always worked best in opposition to something, whether it’s the military hawks of Stripes or the gelatinous spooks of Ghostbusters. His best moment in Quick Change comes when he’s standing in a convenience-store checkout line and gets so impatient with the lady in front of him that he starts stuffing groceries into her bag. For the most part, though, the only thing Murray’s character is trying to subvert here is his own bad luck. Do we really want a kinder, gentler Murray? If anything, the movie is stolen by Quaid, who plays the childish lug Loomis with such bright-eyed glee that by the end you want to hand him a giant rattle. C+

Quick Change
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