Written and directed by Mark Herman, Blame It on the Bellboy is a 1992 comedy centered around a Venice hotel and three men who check in one day. Dudley Moore, Richard Griffiths, and Bryan Brown play Melvyn Orton, Maurice Horton, and Michael Lawton, respectively. If those names sound a little confusing, well, therein lies the plot. A bumbling bellboy (played by Bronson Pinchot, still best known after all these years as Balki Bartokomous) can’t keep their names straight — or even pronounce them correctly — and as a result is continually mistaking them for one another. As each is expecting specific correspondence at the hotel, the bellboy of course mixes up the envelopes and each gets the wrong one — each just plausible enough to seem like it’s the correct envelope and so lead to an hour and twenty minutes of confused comedy.
Of course, if they were all just ordinary businessmen it’d be a minor concern. But while Melvyn Orton is buying property for his boss, Maurice Horton is going on a blind date set up by a computer, and Michael Lawton is expecting to receive a target for assassination.
I don’t know about you, but if I saw this face looking back at me, I’d be double-checking everything as a matter of course.
Due to the bellboy’s inability to keep their names straight, Melvyn goes to the home of Italian gangster Scarpa (Andreas Katsulas) and attempts to buy it from him. Of course, Scarpa had been warned he had been for assassination by somebody, so he and his thugs immediately seize Melvyn and refuse to believe he’s just a simple middleman for a real estate deal. Meanwhile, the actual assassin, Mike Lawton, is trying to come to terms with the idea that he’s been assigned to kill a woman — Patricia Fulford (Penelope Wilton), who is just a lonely heart hoping for some companionship… and who, not getting her proper computer date, eventually notices this strange man “shyly” peeking at her. And Maurice Horton goes off to meet with Caroline Wright, played by Patsy Kensit (who looked irritatingly familiar but unplaceable to me throughout the film; turns out she played Rigg’s girlfriend Rika in Lethal Weapon 2.) He’s hoping for a hot date, she’s hoping to close a sale on a (secretly dilapidated) villa, and it takes surprisingly long for either of them to realize they’re not on the same page.
All of the actors are experienced, and fall into their roles with ease. The problem is, they’re really not given much to work with in terms of comedy. The situations the characters are put in are notionally funny, but they’re all situations that rely on comedic dialogue… and the script simply doesn’t deliver. Double entendres should be flying in at least two of the subplots, but while there is a small amount of it in the Maurice Horton scenes, it’s not quite clever enough and relies too much on both Maurice and Caroline not coming out and saying what they’re talking about. After the third or fourth time one of them mentions “the agency” (him thinking “dating”, her thinking “realty”), it becomes hard to believe that neither of them would mention the name of the agency. The assassin’s story is more interesting, but doesn’t really have a lot of comedy in it. And Melvyn’s story is mostly picks up in the second half of the film, so for the first thirty minutes or so, Dudley Moore’s comedic timing is totally wasted. It does provide most of the actual humor in the film, though.
Plus an explosion, which is always nice.
The stories in the film are actually fairly interesting, and play off of each other well. It’s just that, well, this is a comedy. It’s supposed to be funny. And it just doesn’t manage to deliver on that front. I can’t help but wonder how much better this could have been if someone experienced in writing comedic dialogue had taken a shot at the script, because it’s really the one thing that’s lacking in this film — but it’s what the film most needed to get right.