Making 1930s-style screwball comedy in the Atomic Age has eluded most comers. This one works in part because John Cleese of “Monty Python” fame helped write it. Better than most, Cleese knows that good farce depends on plot — the movie is billed as “A tale of murder, lust, greed, revenge, and seafood.” Wanda (Jamie Lee Curtis) and bug-eyed lover Otto (Kevin Kline) get to London intending to team with George and Ken (Michael Palin) on a diamond heist. Greedy Wanda blows the whistle on (never-on-camera) George only to discover he’s stashed the loot. The question is where.
The rest is a comic history of treachery. Fishing for clues, Wanda seduces George’s stodgy lawyer Archie Leach (Cleese). It’s not clear what wild Wanda likes best: diamonds, sex or foreign accents. Psychotic Otto (Wanda’s secret lover) is a former hit man who can’t tell the difference between malice and mice. Meanwhile, scene-stealing Ken stammers, small dogs get crushed, and goldfish prove suddenly perishable (and yummy).
Given a name like Wanda Gershwitz, Curtis hams this to the hilt. Kline and Palin are hilariously luminous. Cleese facilitates the absurdity by playing it straight. A 1997 sequel called “Fierce Creatures” fell badly flat.