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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

'Fugitive' Parody Lacks Focus




No one can accuse "Wrongfully Accused," now showing at the American House of Cinema, of a shortage of jokes. Leslie Nielsen and his co-stars keep them coming, from a parody of "Lord of the Dance" to a romantic scene from "Titanic" with a slapstick twist.


At one point, the "Field of Dreams"-style baseball players have barely disappeared into the cornfield before Nielsen is already running from a small (very small) airplane ? la "North by Northwest." Unfortunately, most of the jokes just aren't very funny.


Maybe Pat Proft, who was a writer on the "Naked Gun" films and "Hot Shots: Part Deux," works best as part of a team. Maybe he needs one of his old collaborators - ideally David Zucker or Jim Abrahams - to turn his concepts into punch lines. Without them, "Wrongfully Accused," which Proft wrote, directed and produced, feels like a tangle of funny ideas all dressed up with nowhere to go.


Essentially the film is a parody of "The Fugitive," with Nielsen as Ryan Harrison, Lord of the Violin, who is found holding a gun and lying beside the fre shly deceased tycoon Hibbing Goodhue (Michael York).


Harrison insists that the murder was done by a one-armed, one-legged, one-eyed terrorist, but no one believes him and he's soon convicted of murder. Luckily the bus carrying him to his execution slips on a banana peel and crashes, allowing Harrison to escape.


Throughout the film, Richard Crenna, as the Lieutenant Gerard character, seems right on the verge of making his Tommy Lee Jones imitation truly great, but he always just misses, maybe because he has only his attitude to work with.


And Nielsen still has a way with a ludicrous line: "My head is spinning like a dreidel in a sandstorm." "I've got a gun. Not here. But I've got one." "Of all the women in all the world, you had to walk into mine." (Kelly LeBrock and Melinda McGraw play his love interests.)


There are moments: the use of a first-draft manuscript of "Titanic" as a weapon, the "Baywatch" reference (a gaggle of gorgeous, well-built lifeguards of both sexes adjusting their red swimsuits and body parts as they jump into action), the emergency room PA message for Drs. Ross, Green, Benton, et al. about picking up their checks.


And the film has some of its predecessors' we'll-go-anywhere-for-a-joke sense of fun.


For instance, the script has Nielsen crash into an arts-and-crafts booth so he can emerge with blue paint on his face, for a "Braveheart" moment. The cappuccino cups in the happy-dating montage are the size of punch bowls.


But the dirty-diaper jokes and other adolescent humor would be a lot easier to take if they alternated with real comic payoff. Even a cameo by the generally fabulous Sandra Bernhard falls flat. Things go better for Lamb Chop, the saccharine little sock puppet whose creator, Shari Lewis, died earlier this month. Lamb Chop has a cameo as an audience member in the opening concert scene and steals the show.


- Anita Gates