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Scales of Justice: Jez (Stuart Townsend, left), Georgie (Kate Beckinsale) and Dylan (Dan Futterman) scam for a good cause in 'Shooting Fish.'

Swinging London gets a dose of sugar in 'Shooting Fish'

By Richard von Busack

WILL THE '90s be remembered as the Cute Decade? Some evidence: (1) Ally McBeal, the Barney of the thirtysomethings; (2) that spectral dancing toddler she foaled; (3) Rebecca Pidgeon as the Femme Fatale Beanie Baby in The Spanish Prisoner; (4) Leo, LEO, LEO!!!; (5) that adorable Taco Bell Chihuahua who's further endeared himself by mocking Alan Parker's appalling Evita (and it's fun to mistranslate his sad-eyed tag line, "Yo quiero Taco Bell," as "You're eating my brother"). The depths of the Well of Cuteness may never be sounded, but here's another brimming bucket from it: Shooting Fish, a modern version of the fluffy swinging London picture.

To a soundtrack of neo-'60s pop, two zany guys, American slicker Dylan (the sub-Dennis Leary comic Dan Futterman) and nerdy genius Jez (Stewart Townsend), work a number of hustles on staid Londoners. They live in a gadget-filled home that's the kookiest house in the Home Counties: a six-story natural-gas tank that looks as if it had been fixed up by Peter Greenaway. The two men are low-key rivals for Georgie (as in Georgy Girl), played by the gamine-coiffed, toothy Kate Beckinsale. Together, the three commit various scams: sales of a voice-activated computer that turns out to be nothing but a cardboard box and a microphone.

Certainly the look and music of Shooting Fish are easy to settle into. Still, the original swinging London movies had an edge to them. Dick Clement's Otley, John Boorman's Having a Wild Weekend and others fantasized escape from a tightly run Britain. Under the sweetness were nettles; there are bushels of them in that great late-harvest English surreal comedy, Lindsay Anderson's acrid O Lucky Man! But there is no real rebellion in Shooting Fish, just twinkly, light ironic (tinnic?) scam artistry--none-too-inspired scam artistry at that. The '60s spirit is blown by the uniquely '80s "Winner Take Everything in the Whole Wide World" finale. Cake is gotten and eaten both; the three reap loads of money and are able to fund a home for Down's syndrome cases. Some 100 extras with the syndrome--I'm presuming this, they could be actors--are lined up for a cheering crowd shot at the end. I suspect that British filmmakers Stefan Schwartz and Richard Holmes thought they were shooting American fish in a barrel by sweetening their film so shamelessly. They may have low-balled the hustle; this movie is too cute for an audience of parakeets.

Shooting Fish (PG; 93 min.), directed by Stefan Schwartz, written by Richard Holmes and Schwartz, photographed by Henry Braham and starring Dan Futterman, Stewart Townsend and Kate Beckinsale.

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From the April 30-May 6, 1998 issue of Metro.

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