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Groundhog Day makes the most of hilarious premise

Groundhog Day
Directed by Harold Ramis.
Starring Bill Murray, Andie MacDowell,
and Chris Elliott.
Loews Cheri

By Douglas D. Keller

At first the trailers for Groundhog Day had me a little worried. The thought of Bill Murray and a rodent starring in the same movie sent chills up my spine and had me worried that this would be Caddyshack III, and we all remember how bad Caddyshack II was. But Groundhog Day is a rare comedy for these days; it has an original premise, it is genuinely hilarious, and it is at heart an allegory.

Here's the premise: Phil Connors (Bill Murray) is an arrogant, self-centered weatherman for a Pittsburgh television station who is sent to Punxsutawney, Pa. to cover the annual Groundhog Day festival with his cameraman Larry (Chris Elliott) and producer Rita Hanson (Andie MacDowell.) Their trip is only supposed to take one day but because of a blizzard's change in course, the crew has to stay in Punxsutawney overnight. Phil wakes up the next morning to find out that it is Groundhog Day all over again but he is the only one who remembers that Groundhog Day has already happened. Every time Phil goes to sleep he awakens to find that it is Feb. 2 all over again.

Just imagine what you could do in 24 hours if there were no consequences and if no matter what happened you would just wake up again at 6 a.m. to Sonny and Cher singing "I Got You Babe" on the old clock radio. It is quite conceivable that you can't think of a scenario that is not covered in this movie. In one sequence, Phil comes to the realization that his actions have no results and he takes a couple of locals on a high-speed chase with the police. Phil is thrown in jail, only to wake up the next morning in bed with Sonny and Cher on the radio.

After hundreds of Groundhog Days, Phil decides that the only way out of this mess is to kill himself. His decision is the origin of the hilarious scene from the movie trailers in which Phil and Phil (as in Punxsutawney Phil, the groundhog) are driving in the pickup truck. The Phils end the scene by going off a cliff, but not to worry, one will wake up the next morning to "I Got You Babe" while the other will be pulled out of Gobbler's Knob and forced to see his shadow.

The allegory is that Phil's repetition of Groundhog Day is like the daily grind that most of us experience: the same old job with the same people in the same situations with little variation. This theme is handled very well -- after the twentieth (or so) time the clock radio's numbers have flicked over to 6 a.m., groans could be heard from audience members hoping that Phil might be able to escape from the daily grind of Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney.

A huge amount of credit must be given to Bill Murray for being able to keep the audience interested in a premise that should have grown old very quickly. Murray and writer Danny Rubin are able to keep us interested through Murray's superb acting and Rubin's script, which surprises the audience at every turn. One of the nicest surprises is the fundamental change that comes over Phil as the movie progresses. Realizing that no matter how many scams he tries to pull there will not be a change in his situation, Phil decides to improve himself by taking piano lessons and studying literature. It is through Phil's improvement of himself and concern for other people that he finds the solution to his unenviable situation.

Credit is also due to director Harold Ramis who resists the temptation to use the groundhog too much, as was the case in Caddyshack II, and to Andie MacDowell who plays a smart, ambitious producer who is fascinated by the simple things in life like the Groundhog Day festival. MacDowell's Rita plays an important part in helping Phil make it to Feb. 3, but you'll have to see the movie to find out how.

On the whole, Groundhog Day is a very funny, entertaining comedy. The plot is fresh and layered with meaning and the cast does a superb job in making the same day seem interesting and vibrant over and over and over and...