IN "Switching Channels," Satellite News Network news director Burt Reynolds is told by his ratings-crazy boss to feature more fires on the evening news and more rapes, more murders.
It would be funnier if it didn't sound so much like the way this movie got packaged: Get a Reynolds, a Kathleen Turner and a Christopher Reeve. Transplant a proven newspaper story to America's favorite medium. The fun starts.
"Switching Channels" may have plot elements in common with Howard Hawks' "Girl Friday," but not the magic. In Hawks' remake of "The Front Page," Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell play divorced lovers wedded to their newspaper; it takes Russell's engagement to an Elmer Fudd-like insurance man to bring the couple back together. In "Channels," that old big-city joinalism becomes TV journalism, as the image of wiseguy newspapermen chainsmoking their cynical lives away fades to the 1980s airhead TV reporter, too busy with eye-liner to worry about reality. Or comedy.
Burt and Kathleen play the exs -- she's reporter Christy Colleran, he's news director Sully. Christopher Reeve is fiance Blaine Bingham, a hybrid of Clark Kent and Donald Trump, with frosted hair.
At least Reynolds has charm, and Turner has enthusiasm. What Reeve has here is no phone booths to hide in.
Criminal Ike (Henry Gibson) is sentenced to be electrocuted in Chicago, on the eve of a gubernatorial election between moronic imcumbent Siegenthaler and sleazy city D.A. Roy Ridnitz (played with the customary relish by Ned Beatty). When Ike escapes and hides in the city press room, Christy, scores of aforementioned airheads and city cops scurry to and fro in search of Ike -- and laughs. They find Ike.
In place of "Girl Friday's" high-metabolism dialogue and sardonic wit, you have studio high jinks and cheap gags. Reynolds' good will can't replace Cary Grant's suavity and Turner roundly blunts Rosalind Russell's biting, mile-a-minute Hildy. As a purportedly top-notch reporter, she's always out of breath, she asks atrocious questions, her voice honks with fatigue, she shakes her hair like a neophyte . . . Diane Sawyer and Lesley Stahl don't have a thing to worry about.
Screenwriter Jonathan Reynolds (also responsible for the Coca-Cola commercial "Leonard Part 6") has mistaken hysteria for zaniness, and director Ted Kotcheff has confused "His Girl Friday" with "Three's Company," and they have a lot to worry about -- like how much more fun it was to see "Broadcast News," for instance.
SWITCHING CHANNELS (PG) --
At area theaters.