Dave dissects a film that falls into the safe but satisfying bracket of a perfect weekend afternoon matinee.
The ‘90s and invisibility were as synonymous as the ’80s and buddy cop movies. Adam Rifkin spun a tale about The Invisible Maniac (1990), John Carpenter opened up the Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992), and Charlie Band evolved Mandroid (1993) into Invisible: The Chronicles of Benjamin Knight (1993). Then there’s Fred Olen Ray, who had a prolonged period of parental intangibility towards the end of the decade with Invisible Mom (1996) and Invisible Dad (1998) among others. On the small screen, this trope was a less common occurrence, save for The Invisible Woman (1983) – a feature-length sitcom pilot that featured Art LaFleur and Harvey Corman, but, like its title character, it disappeared before anyone noticed it existed.
LOVE CAN BE MURDER is in a similar vein to such a light-hearted romp, cleverly combining melodrama with slapstick and film noir to boot. Elizabeth (Jaclyn Smith) is a partner at her father’s law firm but she’s undergoing a career wobble, and she feels pressured to marry her dorky boyfriend Brad (Cliff De Young). In a moment of wild abandon, she quits her job and starts her own private detective business. Renting an old office in town, she soon realises that the spirit of Nick (Corbin Bernsen), the sleuth that occupied the building in the ‘40s is still lurking, and he wants her to solve a murder – his own.
The catch of this kooky comedy is that Nick is invisible to everyone apart from Elizabeth, which is screenwriter Rob Gilmer’s opportunity to bleed the concept dry with relentless gags that see her gesticulating wildly into thin air as passers-by guffaw hysterically. It’s here where Love Can Be Murder drags. Thankfully, the casting of two quality leads ensure these moments of fatigue are short-lived. Smith has a cute eager naivety about her which is engaging, and she’s certainly no stranger to playing a private detective. It’s Bernsen, though, who steals it, his wise-cracking ‘40s gumshoe snarling his way through the picture with a bewitching glint in his eye.
You either know director Jack Bender from a half-decade spent behind the camera on the TV series Lost, or, if you’re like me, as the guy who made Child’s Play 3 (1991). Nevertheless, he brings a welcome nostalgia to the picture, maintaining a delicate balance between a sunlit modern-day Los Angeles and the fedora-hatted hush-hush of the past.
Premiering on NBC in mid-December 1992, Love Can Be Murder is fresh, funny and filled out with a handful of welcome cameos from Elaine Kagan, Anne Francis, and satirist Bruce Vilanch. Its occasional mawkishness and laboured laughs might prompt the odd wince, but not enough to stop it from being perfect weekend afternoon fodder.
USA ● 1992 ● Comedy, Thriller, TVM ● 92mins
Jaclyn Smith, Corbin Bernsen, Cliff De Young, Tom Bower ● Dir. Jack Bender ● Wri. Rob Gilmer