Dexter King (Jeff Goldblum) is having a spot of bother with his hay fever, which is making him sneeze at the most awkward moments. Awkward because he is an actor, and the last thing he needs is to be making unfortunate and rather loud noises when he is on the stage, not least because his boss is Ron Anderson (Rowan Atkinson), a beloved comedian whose show Dexter appears in as his stooge. The trouble is, it doesn't matter that Anderson is worshiped by his public, in private he is nothing short of obnoxious as fame has gone straight to his head and he treats his staff like dirt, including Dexter: woe betide him if he gets a laugh instead of the star. He decides there's one thing to do, which is get a series of inoculations, but he hates getting injections...
Richard Curtis had already established himself as one of the brightest writing talents to emerge from Britain in the nineteen-eighties with work in acclaimed television series such as Not the Nine O'clock News and Blackadder to his credit, so naturally the next step up was to make a movie. His old cohort Mel Smith wanted to turn to direction, so they teamed up with another colleague, Atkinson, to create The Tall Guy, which received fair to middling reviews but made minor ripples at the box office, nothing on the scale that their small screen efforts had won them. Still, it was a start, and the sense that was what they were doing, starting all over again in a different medium, was palpable throughout this movie.
With that came all the uncertainty whether what they were doing was correct, they must have had confidence in their abilities or they would not have gone ahead, but there was a definite over-rehearsed air to the comedy and a lack of spontaneity which obviously was going to be the case with any scripted comedy, the trick was to conceal how much blood, sweat and tears had gone into making those jokes seem immediate. There were those who responded to The Tall Guy as a bit of inconsequential fluff, and amusing enough as that went, but there were many others who noted how laboured it was, as if drilled with military precision in a desperate fashion, for there was so much at stake in the makers' careers.
Well, it wasn't as bad as all that, there were fresh heights to come for many of those involved, especially Curtis who went on to create some of the most popular romantic comedies of the next couple of decades, much in the style of The Tall Guy, for his eye for a keenly constructed plot was in evidence here. You could simply not find this funny, but you could not disagree the writer had put a lot of thought into the framing and narrative line of his setpieces, therefore if the gags were weak and self-consciously wacky, at least the story hit the right beats and built to a suitably rousing climax, as the sex scene between Goldblum and Emma Thompson did, which was what most were talking about when this was first released, and indeed continued to talk about if it was ever brought up over the course of the rest of the stars' careers.
The other aspect that was mentioned was how effective Atkinson was playing a complete bastard, he had been villainous on his Blackadder shows but always with a comic charm as he was the smartest man in the room, hence we gravitated towards his wit (aside from the first series, where he was far goofier). However, here he was so good at being nasty, with barely a funny line sent his way, that it overbalanced the movie, souring the humour even in the lengthy middle section where he was not around. Goldblum was a decent sort, nicely underplaying for the most part, and Thompson as his new, nurse girlfriend Kate Lemon probably delivered the best performance, but the central sequence where a sacked Dexter gets a job as the non-singing lead of an Elephant Man musical (the author appears to be under the impression the historical figure was a real elephant) was a shade too emphatic, more point-scoring than satire. Interesting for where the participants went afterwards, but you can understand why it picked up a small following. Very 1989 music by Peter Brewis.