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‘Pure Luck’ (PG-13)

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
August 09, 1991

Is Martin Short squandering his talents in his new movie, "Pure Luck"? Absolutely. Definitely. Yes. But what divine squandering. The movie is less than piffle. In it, Short plays a hapless accountant named Proctor, and what is said of many is absolutely true of him: If it weren't for bad luck, he wouldn't have no luck at all. He's not just an accident waiting to happen; he can't stop happening. Given a choice of 50 chairs, he'll sit in the one with the broken leg. Don't even think about lighting a cigarette around him.

Proctor is the butt of some sort of cosmic joke, but when every attempt to find a millionaire executive's kidnapped daughter ends in failure, the company psychiatrist (Harry Shearer) contrives a use for him. The daughter, Valerie (Sheila Kelley), suffers from the same uncanny bad fortune that dogs Proctor, and so why not send him to look for her? Since she seems to have fallen through a hole, perhaps Proctor, through sheer bad karma, will fall through the same hole. It's a nutty plan, but Valerie's father (Sam Wanamaker) is just desperate enough to go for it. Unfortunately, it's Detective Campanella (Danny Glover) who has to accompany Proctor to Mexico for the search that, given the accountant's history, is just slightly less risky than playing catch with nitroglycerin.

This premise, which puts Glover and Short out on the road together, is little more than a setup for a thousand and one pratfalls. The filmmakers -- Herschel Weingrod and Timothy Harris wrote the thing and Nadia Tass directed it -- don't even pretend that the story has any other function; they simply hurl Short into the muck. A good deal of the stuff lands on Glover, and as he showed in the "Lethal Weapon" films, he makes a stellar straight man. But the movie belongs to Short, body and soul, and though almost nothing he is asked to perform is close to first-rate, he executes his comic business with such undaunted elan that it's impossible not to be won over.

The picture gives Short the opportunity to run through almost his entire catalogue of double takes, wacky expressions and peculiar walks. And what a riotously impressive reper toire it is. As a comic, he's endlessly resourceful, a walking encyclopedia of comic shtick. The movie is pure hound, but you'll want to catch Short's every pixilated move. He almost made me wish that the picture would never end.

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