Before he grew his hair long and acquired some matinee-idol cachet in The Fly, Jeff Goldblum played nerds — bug-eyed, hyperkinetic nerds in love with their own neuroses. In The Tall Guy, Goldblum returns to nerdhood, only this time he’s playing a genuinely shy and awkward cretin. His Dexter King is a stumblebum American actor who has spent years playing second banana in the same stupid London comedy revue. He has also been through so many lame romances that he can barely muster the confidence to approach anyone new.
All of this changes when a) he meets a pretty, no-nonsense nurse (Julie Andrews look-alike Emma Thompson) whose idea of fun is leapfrogging into bed on the first date, and b) his height and natural-born ”tragic” air win him the lead in a musical version of The Elephant Man. As born-again nerd romances go, The Tall Guy is mildly charming and mostly too broad. The movie overplays Dexter’s dorkiness in the same way it overplays the big sex scene, the romantic montage, the breakup scene?
On the bright side, director Mel Smith provides some wonderfully scathing show-biz satire. The Elephant Man musical is an uproarious send-up of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s high-glitz earnestness, complete with doleful-yet-bouncy tunes and a chorus of dancing pachyderms; only in the contemporary theater world could this sort of impassioned vulgarity get passed off as ”prestige.” In addition, the movie comes to life whenever Rowan Atkinson shows up as Goldblum’s stage partner, an impishly vitriolic British comedian stewing in his own petty vanity. Next time out, director Smith would do well to spend an entire movie goosing the London theater scene he obviously knows to the core. B-