The Man Who Knew Too Little

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The Man Who Knew Too Little
The Man Who Knew Too Little.jpg
Directed by Jon Amiel
Produced by Arnon Milchan
Michael Nathanson
Mark Tarlov
Written by Novel:
Robert Farrar
Robert Farrar
Howard Franklin
Starring Bill Murray
Peter Gallagher
Joanne Whalley
Alfred Molina
Richard Wilson
Geraldine James
John Standing
Anna Chancellor
Music by Christopher Young
Cinematography Robert M. Stevens
Edited by Pamela Power
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release dates
November 14, 1997
Running time
94 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $20 million
Box office $13,717,039

The Man Who Knew Too Little is a 1997 American comedy espionage film starring Bill Murray, directed by Jon Amiel, and written by Robert Farrar and Howard Franklin. The film is based on Farrar's novel Watch That Man, and the title is a parody of Alfred Hitchcock's 1934 film The Man Who Knew Too Much and his 1956 remake of the same title.


Wallace Ritchie (Murray) flies from Des Moines, Iowa, to London, England, to spend his birthday with his brother, James (Peter Gallagher), who is to hold a business dinner that evening. Though James is all too happy to spend time with Wally, his presence threatens to sour the evening, and so James sets Wallace up with an interactive improv theatre business, the "Theatre of Life", which promises to treat the participant as a character in a crime drama. Before the night begins, James hands Wallace a pair of Ambassador cigars, promising to "fire them up" before midnight in celebration of Wally's birthday. Trouble begins when Wallace answers a phone call intended for a hitman at the same payphone that the Theatre of Life uses for its act.

The contact, Sir Roger Daggenhurst (Richard Wilson), mistakes Wallace for Spencer, the hitman he has hired. Thinking it's part of the act, Wallace uses that identity. The real Spencer (Terry O'Neill) picks up the phone call meant for Wally and murders one of the actors, prompting a search for Wallace. Sir Roger, his assistant Hawkins (Simon Chandler), the British Defense Minister Gilbert Embleton (John Standing), and Russian intelligence agent Sergei (Nicholas Woodeson) plan to detonate an explosive device (hidden in a Matryoshka doll) during a dinner between British and Russian dignitaries, to rekindle the Cold War and replace their aging technology.

Still believing he's acting with the Theatre of Life, even after he is hilariously mugged, Wally meets Lori (Joanne Whalley), Embleton's call-girl. Lori plans to blackmail Embleton for a substantial amount of money, using letters that detail the assassination plot. Spencer was hired to eliminate her and destroy the letters. Wallace scares off Embleton when he arrives to look for them and drives off Spencer. Fearing their plot will be revealed, Daggenhurst hires two "plumbers", while Sergei hires now-inactive spy Boris "The Butcher" Blavasky (Alfred Molina), all charged with eliminating "Spencer". Boris succeeds in killing the real Spencer, but Wallace and Lori return, retrieving the letters.

When Wallace uses Spencer's communicator during a conversation with Daggenhurst, he tells him "I know a couple of guys who're hoping to fire up some big Ambassadors, at 11:59," referring to James' promise. Thinking the words refer to the assassination plot, both sides believe he is an American spy who has caught on to their scheme. After a police chase ends with Daggenhurst convincing the police that Wallace is a spy, Daggenhurst offers Wallace and Lori 3 million British pounds in return for the letters, at the same hotel where the dinner is taking place. This is a ruse to capture and kill them both. All the while Wally gets close to his "co-star" Lori, who confesses she'd love to study acting once they're paid.

Wally contacts James, but is captured, prompting James to call the Theatre for more time. By this point, the police have interrogated the actors and are waiting for answers from James, who thinks the officer he's talking to is an uncooperative actor. Believing James is an accessory to the murder, they send a strike team to foil what they believe is a terrorist plot. However, James has already left to seek Wally at the hotel, having seen the news report that Wallace had murdered an actor. Wally meets Boris but Boris's attempt with truth serum to find out who he's working for fails (though in reality it had succeeded when Wally tells them he works for Blockbuster Video). Boris opts for torture by Dr Rudmilla Kropotkin (Geraldine James), but Wally and Lori escape. Lori and Wally separate, while James is captured and sent to Dr Kropotkin. Wally finds himself part of a group of Russian folk dancers. During the routine, he sees the Matryoshka doll bomb, unwittingly disarms it seconds before it goes off, blocks a poison dart from Boris with it, and steals the show with his improvised dancing.

Realizing their plot has failed, Sergei and Daggenhurst bring out two bags containing the promised £3 million for Wallace and Lori and release James, who is exhausted but otherwise fine after his torture session. Boris congratulates Wallace for his impressive covert skills and gives him a souvenir pistol, telling Wallace he will continue his butcher shop business. Sergei and Daggenhurst attempt to escape with half the money and discover Wally's doll, which they believe is only a normal one he picked out for himself. They are proven wrong when they realign the doll, reactivating the bomb and blowing them up, just as Wally and Lori share a kiss.

Some time later, on an exotic beach, Wally unwittingly incapacitates a spy, passing a test by an unknown American espionage group. Believing he is capable of being a top agent, they offer him a position on "the team". Thinking that they wish to make him a movie star, Wallace accepts their offer. The movie ends with Wallace persuading them to act like dogs. Desperate to have him join them, they do so.



The Man Who Knew Too Little received mixed reviews from critics, and it holds a 42% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

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