The Tall Guy (1990)

Own it!

review by Scott Hamilton and Chris Holland
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The Tall Guy

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Our rating: four LAVA® motion lamps.

The Tall Guy is one of those rare romantic comedies where everything is done right. It has a terrific cast, great gags, the best (and funniest) sex scene ever committed to celluloid, and musical numbers to boot.

One of the biggest mistakes the makers of romantic comedies make is to assume that the comedy must always be related to the romance. This leads to the numerous pictures that are churned out every year with nothing more to offer than recycled mistaken-identity plots and gutteral sex jokes.

Fortunately, The Tall Guy is hilarious in its own right, even before the romantic relationship arises (and it takes a while to show up). Director Mel Smith (the upcoming Dr. Bean, Radioland Murders) takes Richard (Four Weddings and a Funeral) Curtis' screenplay and runs with it, accompanied by our man Jeff Goldblum and the always-lovely-to-behold Emma Thompson.

Goldblum & Thompson in Goldblum plays Dexter King, a tall American actor playing straight man to the extremely pissy comedian Ron Anderson (Rowan Atkinson). It's a testament to Goldblum's talent that Atkinson does not steal the show. Dexter, who suffers chronic hayfever and an acute phobia of hypodermic needles, seems to be doomed to the fate of being the faceless "tall guy" -- an American actor at a loss for direction in the London stage world. Seeking treatment for his hayfever at the encouragement of his nymphomaniac landlady, Dexter meets Kate (Emma Thompson), a pretty nurse. Dexter then opts for the shots, which terrify him, so that he will have the opportunity to see more of Kate.

Kate eventually turns his world around. It takeså Dexter several rounds of shots to work up the courage to ask her name, but once he does, it seems to be full steam ahead. After the aforementioned sex scene, Dexter misses a performance and is forced to seek new employment, which finds him in the form of an Andrew Lloyd Webber-style musical, entitled "Elephant!" It's a play based on "The Elephant Man," and in many ways, this show within a show is more than worth the price of renting the tape. Not only are the musical numbers hilarious ("Take a deep breath/ Prepare for the worst/ The ugliest man in the universe..."), but the references to stage culture provide some of the biggest laughs.

TIMOTHY: Well, what next?

GAVIN: Shakespeare.

TIMOTHY: Oh yes -- back to the bosom of the Bard!

GAVIN: Yes. It's a musical based on 'Richard the Third' called 'Dirty Dick.'

Consider, if you will, the strange case of Jeff Goldblum. The man is obviously funny, and also capable of handling serious acting roles. He's been in two of the highest-grossing movies of all time (Jurassic Park & Independence Day), and yet the man still has yet to pull down a salary greater than a million bucks for one movie.* In a day and age when Jim Carrey gets $20mil for garbage like The Cable Guy, we consider this a crime. And can Carrey (Goldblum's co-star in Earth Girls Are Easy) claim a movie to his credit as great as this one? Hopefully, Goldblum's appearance in The Lost World, the sequel to Jurassic Park, will put him over the million-dollar mark and gain him some more respect in Hollywood.

We also hope that Emma Thompson will one day do some more romantic comedies like The Tall Guy. She has a gift for comedy (she began her acting career with the Cambridge Footlights Revue comedy troupe), and could probably pick some roles in fairly intelligent comedies, romantic and otherwise. Instead, she decided to do the miserable Junior. However, given that the title of her next picture is The Well of Loneliness, we have little hope for comic relief from Ms. Thompson in the future. Still, she does a credible job as Kate Lemmon, the nurse of Dexter's dreams.

Has all of our fawning praise still not convinced you to go rent this gem? Here, glom on to the unofficial Tall Guy web site. Then: Video store! Tall Guy! Go! You rent!

Review date: 12/31/1996

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* Actually, to be completely honest, we read this somewhere, but couldn't confirm it with any source. Anyone with actual numbers should drop us a line.