Groundhog Day
directed by Harold Ramis
(Columbia TriStar, 1993)

I was looking for a movie to pass a quiet evening. I glanced at the clock and saw it was just past midnight on Feb. 2. So my selection became obvious: Groundhog Day.

It's not great cinema, but it's a fun two hours that stands up well to the test of time. The story isn't wildly original, but it is clever; the acting isn't Oscar material, but it's good. And heck, we get to see Bill Murray interact with another earthy rodent, a la his mad gopher hunt in Caddyshack.

Phil Connors (Murray) is a grouchy Pittsburgh weatherman sent, for the fourth year running, to Punxsutawney, Pa., for the annual Groundhog Day rites. He doesn't want to be there, and he strives to make the day miserable for his producer Rita (Andie MacDowell) and cameraman Larry (Chris Elliott). But the day keeps repeating. No matter what Phil does, no matter how he varies his routine, he wakes up at 6 a.m. Feb. 2 to the sound of Sonny and Cher and a pair of goofy DJs.

The fun lies in watching how Phil deals with the problem. Confusion, anger and denial turns to playful experimentation -- just how much can he get away with, if there are never any consequences the next day? -- to a variety of strange attempts at self and social improvement. Before the day is done, you'll see a lot of scams, doughnuts, seductions, suicide attempts, a game of chicken with a train and one great chase scene.

Murray is in excellent form for the movie, masterfully playing and replaying his scenes with subtle changes and variations on the theme. He never goes gonzo in the part, maintaining a practiced calm even at his most manic moments. It's impossible not to cheer for his gradual evolution into self-awareness, depth and redemption.

MacDowell is her usual sweet self, sparkling with mild humor and matching wits with Murray every step of the way, reacting with appropriate amounts of unease, disbelief and confusion each time he tries to broach the subject of his daily rerun. Rounding out the cast are a few gems, including Elliott as the awkward sidekick, Stephen Tobolowsky as Murray's pushy old acquaintance Ned Ryerson, Rick Ducommun and Rick Overton as Murray's erstwhile drinking buddies Gus and Ralph, and Marita Geraghty as perky Nancy, Phil's first Groundhog Day conquest.

The end is predictable, but it's a fun ride getting there. If nothing else, there's a nice lesson about being a good person -- and living one day at a time.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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