RADIOLAND MURDERS. Universal, 1994. Brian Benben, Mary Stuart Masterson, Ned Beatty, Scott Michael Campbell, Jeffrey Tambor, Stephen Tobolowsky, Michael Lerner, Anita Morris, and too many comic supporting players to name. Check IMDb. Screenplay by Willard Huyck, from a story by George Lucas. Directed by Mel Smith.

   A Financial flop for Universal and Lucasfilms (but I kinda like it), this looks like His Girl Friday layered over Murder at the Vanities, transposed to a glittery world of Technicolor Art Deco.

   At the maiden broadcast of a new Radio Network, the owner (Ned Beatty) throws a lavish gala for prospective affiliates and sponsors while an unknown killer methodically murders various executives, announcing each killing in advance with a menacing bit of doggerel over the speakers. Meanwhile the staff hustles frantically to keep things running, scriptwriter Brian Benben struggles to keep his wife (Mary Stuart Masterson) from leaving him, and the various “talents” involved contend with scriptless dramas, dropped cues and a temperamental revolving stage.

    Radioland never achieves the bawdy gaudiness of Vanities or the cinematic chemistry of Friday, but what it lacks in charisma it makes up in chaos. Brian Benben spends the whole film dangling from ledges or racing down hallways, chased by cops and/or sponsors, and often in a variety of disguises keyed to whatever musical number is up next.

   These musical numbers are a treat in themselves as bandleader Michael McKean re-jiggers his troupe to look like a panoply of Big Bands, from Xavier Cugat to Spike Jones, with stops along the way for dead-on recreations of the Andrews Sisters, young Frank Sinatra, and even Cab Calloway, all done so well I wished we could have stayed with them longer.

   But it ain’t so. Radioland keeps moving too fast for more than summary scraps of classic hits—though it does pause a bit longer for the ersatz Spike Jones insanity. Less happily, the Writer’s Room at the studio bubbles over with brilliant comics, none of whom get to do anything funny. Disappointing and wasteful.

   So it’s a measure of the movie’s energy that I forgave this mortal sin. Indeed, I barely noticed it. In the scheme of things, Radioland Murders doesn’t amount to much and never will. But it’s definitely a worthwhile time-waster.