SOMETHING's going on in "The Squeeze." Something about murder, intrigue and the lottery. Director Roger Young and screenwriter Daniel Taplitz place a screwball duo (Michael Keaton and Rae Dawn Chong) in a Chandleresque thriller setting (Gotham warehouse loft, murky blues, incessant saxophone, weird hoods) and wait for a story to appear. Hope they're not still waiting.
Poor Keaton, the talented comic performer from "Gung Ho," "Johnny Dangerously" and "Nightshift," has at least two problems. He must wade through a plot thicker than the East River, and work with a hopelessly miscast Rae Dawn Chong. As Harry Berg, a down-and-outer living in aforementioned loft, he plays a Loser. His wife left him and insists on alimony. He can't bluff in poker. And the strange contraption he's making for a nightclub -- a seven-ton prehistoric creature-sculpture made out of hardware bits and festooned with televisions -- is only half done and the client's losing interest. What he needs is a mission. Too bad he chose "The Squeeze."
Keaton does his empathetic best. He's a fount of off-the-cuff remarks, his widened eyes ever resigned to trouble. But then along comes Chong to gumshoe up the works. Her Rachel Dobs, a bill collector serving the alimony summons, has a mission herself, as she squeakingly repeats over and over again: To be involved in a real detective investigation.
When Berg's ex slips him a mysterious black box, both get what they're after. Turns out a lot of one-dimensional crooks want the box because it will make them millions (it has to do with fixing the lottery). Berg and Dobbs then meet a series of walking cliches. There's Rigaud (Ronald Guttman), a European who collects shrunken heads and says things like "It seems tragedy is the essence of being." There's his slinky partner Gem Vigo (Leslie Bevis), who dresses in Masters of the Universe couture and sleeps her way to the bottom. They also encounter a heavily rouged John Davidson as the Liberace-like lottery announcer Honest Tom T. Murray. The most interesting cameo comes from portly rock star Meat Loaf -- as a hood named Titus with a perspiration problem. He leans against Dob's office door in one scene and leaves an all-day job for the cleaning lady.
There could have been a charming, nonsensical momentum to "Squeeze," in the same way "Diva" bounced along with its offbeat characters and dramatic implausibilities. But this crime caper depends on wild 'n' spontaneous chemistry between Keaton and Chong which never takes place.
THE SQUEEZE (R) -- Area theaters.