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‘King Ralph’ (Pg-13)

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
February 15, 1991

In David S. Ward's paltry new comedy "King Ralph," John Goodman is certainly king-size. And he's a Ralph. Brother, is he a Ralph -- slovenly, vulgar, common as dirt. His wardrobe preferences run to the neo-Polynesian; next stop Waikiki. And his color choices come from the back row of the crayon box. At the beginning of the film, he's a lounge singer in a Vegas clip joint, where he specializes in schlock classics. "Here's a little number," he croons, "from the godfather of Hawaiian soul ... Don Ho."

Ralph is something of an underachiever. The rung on the show business ladder to which he's climbed could hardly be lower. He even shares a dressing room with a chimp, who, as it turns out, gets full possession after Ralph is dumped for watching football games on a TV hidden under his piano. Not to worry, though. Due to a freak accident in which the entire royal family of England is wiped out, Ralph gets another gig. The gig of a lifetime.

As a comedy, "King Ralph" is all concept, all variations on a fish-out-of-water theme, and once you get the riff -- the slob American ascends to the throne of England -- you can see all the jokes coming from light-years away. Imagine a lavish royal dinner party for several hundred important guests, imagine an endlessly long line of priceless crystal wine glasses, imagine the king knocking his over ... and whammo! Chain reaction! There you have it.

As his majesty's adviser and executive secretary, Peter O'Toole brings a sly hauteur to his role; every inflection is a masterpiece of snobbish drollery. Simply the way he lands on a vowel or cracks his tongue over a consonant is a hilarious expression of precision stagecraft. It's the acting equivalent of pulling a rabbit out of a hat.

The point of "King Ralph," which Ward wrote as well as directed, is that though Ralph may be an American bull in the royal china shop, he's a whale of a guy -- big-hearted, decent and, in his own exuberantly beer-guzzling way, noble. There is, indeed, royal blood coursing through his veins. The part plays right down the center of Goodman's strength; as an actor, he is a big, regular, good-time sort of guy, and in small parts he stokes a film's energy with his boisterous high spirits. As a star, trying to carry a whole picture, he comes off as, well, a lightweight. In small doses, he's a blessing -- a ton of fun. In larger ones, he's a load.

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