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The Perfect Murder Reviews

Light, lively, and good fun, this English-language mystery-comedy set in India could be called a LETHAL WEAPON for movie lovers who relish witty wordplay over gunplay. Indeed, not a single shot is fired throughout the film, and the eponymous murder isn't even a murder. It's also far from perfect, in the generally understood sense of the "perfect crime." It seems that one Mr. Perfect, personal secretary to a jolly, fat, punning construction contractor named Lala (Amjad Khan), has been assaulted in his employer's Bombay home. Because there is no sign of forced entry, the list of suspects is a short one, consisting of Lala himself, his wife, his two sons, and his daughter-in-law. The case should be a piece of cake for Inspector Ghote (Naseeruddin Shah)--but if it were, of course, there wouldn't be much of a movie. If fact, Ghote is juggling not one, but four "top-priority" matters the day after Mr. Perfect's imperfect murder. Before that crime even occurred, Ghote had been trying, with no success, to crack a diamond-smuggling ring. A ring of another kind figures in a third case: a piece of costume jewelry with special sentimental value to the Minister of Justice, given to him by dazzling Bombay movie starlet Miss Twinkle, is now missing from his office desk drawer. Last, but not least, Ghote is assigned to escort a visitor from Sweden, criminologist Axel Svensson (Stellan Skarsgard), who's on hand to observe Bombay investigative procedures, and who becomes a mildly klutzy Mel Gibson to Ghote's East Indian Danny Glover. From the start of his investigation into the assault on Mr. Perfect, Ghote is hampered not by a shortage of clues or suspects, but by Indian social mores that dictate a degree of decorum in interrogation that even Svensson finally finds intolerably exasperating. Ghote's questioning of the upper-class Lala family is permitted only until they become annoyed, which happens with blinding suddenness whenever he broaches the matter of where each family member was when the unfortunate Perfect got clobbered with a candlestick. Meanwhile, Svensson keeps tripping over Ghote's diamond-smuggling investigation. Stepping off his plane, Svensson is accosted by a stranger who sidles up to inform him that "Krishna has stolen the butter" and who then attempts to wrest a large coffee-table book about the Hindu god from the Swede, who is carrying it with him. The real smuggler escapes, the diamonds concealed in a book identical to Svensson's. Later the smugglers, still convinced that Svensson is carrying the jewels and determined to force the truth from him, kidnap him by tickling him into submission. The quick-thinking Ghote, lacking police backup, diverts an anti-pornography demonstration to the smugglers' hideout to distract them, allowing him to free Svensson. Then, Ghote's too-diligent investigation of the missing Twinkle ring is brought to an abrupt end by the Minister of Justice's confession that he had the ring all along, and called for the investigation only to test Ghote's mettle. The plot continues to thicken, its solution coming, magically and literally, with the onset of the monsoon, which simultaneously speeds Mr. Perfect's recovery and gives Ghote the information he needs to tie up all his outstanding cases--which, from the Twinkle ring to the smuggling ring, turn out to be parts of one and the same case. The clever symmetry and logic of THE PERFECT MURDER's mystery plot can be attributed to its basis in an acclaimed novel by H.R.F. Keating, who cowrote the script with director Zafar Hai. But, as in most good whodunits, getting to the solution is only half the fun. Incidental pleasures also abound in this Merchant Ivory production, starting with winning performances from lead actors Shah and Skarsgard and able supporting performances. Hai's direction is brisk, straightforward, and adroit, as well as unpretentiously sensitive and observant (perhaps a legacy of Hai's background in documentary filmmaking). Though frothy to a fault, THE PERFECT MURDER has a strong, realistic sense of place and character that somehow makes it even more richly amusing. Keating has authored an entire series of mysteries featuring Inspector Ghote; it is to be hoped that THE PERFECT MURDER won't be the last to reach the screen. (Profanity.)