"Johnny Dangerously," a spoof of '30s gangster pictures, is a movie with two comic strategies, two laughs and no acting. The strategies:
1. Dredge up the cliche's of B-moviemaking with a literal-minded absurdism. This might be called the "Airplane!" approach. So "Johnny Dangerously" opens with a street scene bearing the legend "1935," and the ho-ho is that the logo actually exists in the scene (a passing car smashes it to smithereens). Or a character says, "Sure, and I'm the pope," in his best tough-guy style, and who shows up but -- the pope!
2. Inject our times into a period setting. Another idea from "Airplane!" So a gangster's car has a bumper sticker reading, "I'd Rather Be Stealing." Street vendors sell "I Love Johnny" T-shirts. Or a fat hit man says, "I'm starting the Cambridge Diet on Monday." You get the point.
1. Johnny Dangerously (Michael Keaton), a racketeer with a heart of gold, is trying to persuade his brother Tommy (Griffin Dunne) to stay in law school; his brother wants to get married so he can sleep with his girlfriend. Johnny shows him a reel titled "Your Testicles and You" that effectively parodies sex-ed instructional films. This kind of sight gag isn't what you'd call sophisticated, but hey, you take what you can get.
2. Tommy, who stays in law school and becomes the DA, puts his brother behind bars. But Johnny bears no grudge (ya big palooka!). He gets word along the grapevine of a plot by the evil Danny Vermin (Joe Piscopo) to knock off the DA. As the word is passed from prisoner to prisoner, it gets mangled, as it does in a party game. But Johnny translates it back. "I know this grapevine."
1. Keaton, after his riveting turn in "Night Shift," has become a one-note bore. Keaton has one physical riff (he jiggles) and one facial riff (mock-appalled, with his eyebrow raised, his nose wrinkled in disgust and his lips peeled back from clenched teeth).
2. Piscopo, like Dan Aykroyd, relied in his "Saturday Night Live" sketches on mimicry, his most famous being a sendup of Frank Sinatra. His snarling baddie makes Keaton seem nuanced.
3. Marilu Henner, as a nightclub singer who falls in love with Johnny. There are few things more embarrassing than watching Henner, with her pink fleshiness barely concealed by her gowns, paraded around as a sex object. She looks like a hamster.
The great shame is that this mess belongs to director Amy Heckerling, whose gentle touch made "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" so much more than a teen sex comedy. Heckerling seems lost and distracted here -- the framing is careless, and the film moves with a stuttering pace. Why is this talented director being channeled into projects like this? "Johnny Dangerously," now playing at area theaters, is rated PG-13 for violence and occasional profanity.