n 1939, WBN, a 4th network is about to take to America's airwaves. As if the confusion of the premiere night wasn't enough, Penny Henderson, the owner's secretary, must deal with an unhappy sponsor, an overbearing boss and a soon-to-be ex-husband who desperately wants her back.
The latest high-profile film to advance directly to video is this George Lucas produced period romp notable for being the Hollywood directorial debut of portly British funnyman Mel Smith. And despite dying a quiet death at the US box office, its not nearly as stinky its unceremonious early bath seems to suggest.
Set in 1939, when radio shows were performed live in front of an audience, the films events take place during the opening nights entertainment at Chicagos new station, WBN. While anodyne drawing-room dramas and comedy penguins shuffle on and offstage, somebody is offing members of staff in every way possible from electrocution to ODing on nitrous oxide. Its down to station secretary Penny (Masterson) and her estranged husband Roger (Benben) to sort things out, all the while leaving their audience blissfully unaware that anything is untoward.
The problem is that there is too much going on at any one time to allow the story to settle. The huge cast indulge in much frantic darting about, slapstick set-pieces and enough shouting to give an entire Man Utd crowd laryngitis. Most of this is far from rip-roaring. Yet underneath it all is a surprisingly acceptable little film. The performances, in particular the ginger-bonced Masterson, the appealing Benben and a wildly over-the-top Lloyd as a sound effects expert, keep things on an even keel, the killers identity is unpredictable , and it all looks splendid, with lavish song and dance numbers and a giant radio tower which hovers perilously over Chicago serving as a perfect venue for the finale.
While this could have been spectacular, if the noise and confusion had been pared down, it is still one to plop into the unexpected surprises file. In fact, its disappointing that something so sumptuous looking bypassed the big screen, where it would have been even easier on the eye.
Not as bad as you may think.