To sum up Levy’s direction, although Once Upon a Crime filmed entirely on location in Europe, the whole thing feels vaguely Canadian. Or, to put it another way, it’s hard to believe anyone footed Jim Belushi’s airfare to Monte Carlo to film this one.
But Levy’s only a mediocre director, the casting is the real problem. Belushi’s awful and so is Richard Lewis. The joke of the screenplay is the men are always weaker than their women, whether it’s Belushi and Cybill Shepherd (who’s okay), Lewis and Sean Young (who’s good), John Candy and Ornella Muti (more on them in a bit), or even the butler and maid (Geoffrey Andrews and Ann Way). The only subtle part in the film is this repeated power dynamic.
Maybe Levy missed it. He was too busy letting Belushi fail at acting a moron. Now, the script isn’t genius dialogue by any means, but it’s not terrible. Lewis is doing his stand-up (he’s even in his trench coat) and it doesn’t work. But Belushi simply can’t act. In the scenes opposite Candy, when Levy’s going for something out of a screwball comedy, it’s a perfect example of Candy’s ability and Belushi’s lack of it. Candy makes it work, all of it. Belushi drags every scene.
Muti’s good as Candy’s suffering wife; their scenes together are a highpoint.
The best performance is Giancarlo Giannini as the police inspector investigating the surprisingly engaging mystery.
Once Upon a Crime is a bad film, but not entirely.
Directed by Eugene Levy; screenplay by Charles Shyer, Nancy Meyers and Steve Kluger, based on an earlier screenplay by Rodolfo Sonego, Giorgio Arlorio, Stefano Strucchi and Luciano Vincenzoni and a story by Sonego; director of photography, Giuseppe Rotunno; edited by Patrick Kennedy; music by Richard Gibbs; production designer, Pier Luigi Basile; produced by Dino De Laurentiis; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
Starring John Candy (Augie Morosco), James Belushi (Neil Schwary), Cybill Shepherd (Marilyn Schwary), Sean Young (Phoebe), Richard Lewis (Julian Peters), Ornella Muti (Elena Morosco), Giancarlo Giannini (Inspector Bonnard), George Hamilton (Alfonso de la Pena), Roberto Sbaratto (Detective Toussaint), Joss Ackland (Hercules Popodopoulos), Ann Way (Housekeeper) and Geoffrey Andrews (Butler).