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Film / The Wrong Guy

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A 1997 comedy film starring Dave Foley, Jennifer Tilly, David Anthony Higgins and Colm Feore.

Nelson Hibbert (Foley) is a slightly obnoxious executive who will do anything he can to get to the top, and is convinced that his boss (Kenneth Welsh) is about to announce him as the new president of the company. When his boss instead gives this position to his hated rival, Nelson doesn't take it very well, and ends up yelling death threats at his boss while being dragged away by security. To make matters worse, a few minutes later Nelson's boss is murdered, and Nelson is the first one to discover the body. Panicking and paranoid, Nelson is convinced that the police will conclude he is the murderer (not least because of the many ways he accidentally implicates himself) and decides to go on the run... unaware that the police already know who the real murderer is, and aren't interested in Nelson in the slightest. Hilarity Ensues as Nelson frequently crosses paths with both the cops and the real killer at the worst times possible.

Unfortunately, the film only received a theatrical release in Canada, and it was only released direct-to-video in the U.S.

This film contains examples of:

  • Affectionate Parody: The film is a parody of the "wrongly accused man trying to Clear My Name." In this case, Nelson doesn't realize that no one is accusing him, and there's no need to clear his name.
  • Air-Vent Passageway: How the killer escapes the scene of Nelson's boss's murder. His escape is caught on security cameras, and Detective Arlen makes a point to mention how impressive his escape was to other people.
    Cop: [The killer] did this somersault thing onto my squad car.
    Detective Arlen: Yeah, he's good alright. I've seen him pull himself up into an air duct.
  • Asshole Victim: Nelson's boss really had it coming.
  • Bad Cop/Incompetent Cop: Of the two cops assigned to finding Nagel's murderer, one uses the investigation as a thin excuse to eat at restaurants, visit strip clubs, see Broadway musicals, etc., and the other seems to believe this will genuinely help.
  • Bad Liar: Nelson.
  • Bait-and-Switch: Nelson pulls a keepsake photograph from his wallet, with the implication that we will finally see his off-screen fiancée Constance, but it's just a photo of himself at a Mexican restaurant.
  • Better Manhandle the Murder Weapon: Nelson not only takes the knife out of Nagel's body, he hangs onto it, brandishes it as he walks through the building, drops it in the elevator and has it handed back to him by another passenger, and when he finally tries to get rid of it by throwing it off a bridge, it lands directly on a police boat.
    Fred Holden: Nelson, set these people straight. You're not a killer, are you?
    Nelson: A killer? No! No, no, no, no, no. I'm an alleged killer. And yes, I did threaten the man and my prints were all over the murder weapon, but that's just 'cause I pulled it out of his skull! [mimes]
  • Big Damn Kiss: Nelson and Lynn share a passionate kiss at the very end of the film, only for Lynn to pass out again and force Nelson to awkwardly drag her limp body away.
  • Big "WHAT?!":
    Nagel: The new president of Nagel Industries is — big surprise! — Ken Daly.
    Nelson: WHAT?
    Nagel: Pardon?
    Nelson: What did you just say?
    Nagel: Ken is the new president.
    Nelson: WHAT?
    Nagel: I don't know how to say it any more clearly. Ken is the new president.
    Nelson: Somebody else say something.
    Some guy: Hibbert, you're making an ass of yourself.
    Nelson: Okay, I can hear, I just can't believe WHAT I am hearing.
  • The Cameo:
    • Dave Foley's fellow Kid in the Hall Kevin McDonald shows up as a motel clerk. Mark McKinney also has an uncredited cameo.
    • Canadian sketch comedy greats Dan Redican of The Frantics and Joe Flaherty of SCTV, both acknowledged influences on the Kids in the Hall, play rival executive Ken Daly and Lynn's father Fred Holden respectively.
    • The Barenaked Ladies appear as the cops playing quarters in an alley, then end up singing A Cappella songs ("Gangster Girl...") well into the night, cornering Nelson in his dumpster hiding place.
    • Director David Steinberg is the hospital patient whose newspaper Nelson tries to steal for a Newspaper-Thin Disguise.
  • Clear My Name: Subverted; Nelson thinks he's in this trope and goes on the run, but it's made instantly clear that the police already know he didn't do it and aren't interested in him in the least. Too bad no one tells Nelson that.
  • Climbing Climax: Parodied. It takes place at a miniature-golf course full of replicas of American landmarks, and the killer takes Nelson and Lynn hostage at the top of the Statue of Liberty, which is just a big plywood head. When he (inevitably) falls to the ground, he only groans and complains, "I fell on my keys."
  • Coincidental Accidental Disguise: Upon escaping the bank, Nelson, in his old-timey uniform, is immediately offered a ride on a bus headed for a barbershop-quartet convention. A second later, a bus going to the "Emotionally Disturbed Veterans' Retreat" stops for the killer, who is of course dressed accordingly.
  • The Ditz: Nelson is not the brightest of men.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: The killer remarks that he'd never marry someone just to further his career. Nelson objects, "Hey, you don't know what it's like out there!"
  • Flashed-Badge Hijack: Detective Arlen tends to abuse this in order to get what he wants. Taken to ridiculous extremes in the climax, where he commandeers an old man's mobility scooter using this method to save him a walk of what can only be about fifty feet at most.
  • The Food Poisoning Incident: Happens to Nelson twice, once when he happily eats some strange berries and a large mushroom he finds in the woods, and more understandably when he hides in a freight car full of canned hams that turn out to be tainted.
  • Friendless Background: Apparently no one likes Nelson at all at his company. As he greets everyone in the morning, every single person reacts with confusion or annoyance at his attention. His coworkers also seem to delight in his misery when he sobs into the intercom.
  • Fugitive Arc: Nelson's character arc is a parody of one. It's a "Shaggy Dog" Story from the very beginning, and Nelson's actions are just plain absurd.
  • Funny Background Event: When the killer starts shooting at the cops in the motel parking lot, the motel clerk wraps himself in Nelson's towel while ducking down, apparently expecting that it will protect him from bullets.
  • The Ghost: Constance, Nelson's fiancee. He calls her twice to update her on events, including that he's fallen in love with another woman, but we never see or hear her. Even his keepsake photograph in his wallet doesn't have her in it.
  • I Lied: Nagel's explanation when Nelson points out that he told him he was going to be the next president of the company.
  • Inelegant Blubbering: Nelson weeps uncontrollably in his office after finding out he's been passed over, little realizing that he's been leaning on the intercom, and his coworkers have all been listening in to laugh at him.
  • It May Help You on Your Quest: Parodied. Nelson believes that two teabags and a sheet of wax paper will help him later, but when the right time comes, he has no idea what to do with them.
  • It's a Small World, After All: Even when Nelson's plan is to Run for the Border as fast as he can, he just constantly runs into the cops assigned to the case and the killer. By the third act, the killer even voices his thoughts that Nelson is pulling a Richard Kimble and is chasing him.
  • Just the Introduction to the Opposites: Instead of a sinister banker out to foreclose on a poor farmer, it's a rich fatcat farmer trying to crush a small local bank.
  • Line-of-Sight Alias: Nelson wakes up in a hospital. Believing he's a wanted man, he needs a fake name. So he tries "Enemabag Jones". When the doctor isn't convinced he tries again, reading "Dr. Helen Harris" off her nametag. Later, when he meets Lynn, he scans her dashboard for options before giving up and just telling her his real name.
  • Local Angle: Farmer Brown owns the town newspaper, so uses Nelson's fugitive status to cause a run on the bank. When one of the angry citizens produces a copy of the paper, the front-page headlines read "Teller Is a Cold-Blooded Murderer" and "Run on Bank Planned for Later Today."
  • Lovable Coward: Nelson.
  • Master of Disguise: Played for laughs with the murderer, who has an endless supply of disguises and goes through them at an unnecessary rate.
  • Mexican Standoff: Not in play, as neatly explained by the killer:
    Cop: Freeze! Put down your weapon.
    Killer: No. You put down yours, or I put a hole through this guy's [Nelson's] head.
    Cop: Well. Looks like we've got ourselves a Mexican standoff.
    Killer: Not really. A Mexican standoff is where no one has an advantage. In this case, I could use this guy as a shield, kill you, and then kill him anyway.
    Cop: My mistake. What if I… put down my gun, walk away, and you don't kill me? [lays down gun, raises hands] What's that called?
    Killer: That's called you're a stinking yellow coward.
    Cop: Stinking yellow coward. Works for me. [runs]
  • Miscarriage of Justice: Subverted; Nelson, having discovered the body and, through a convoluted series of mishaps, ended up being covered in his boss's blood, flees because he's convinced this is going to happen. The police, however, have ample amounts of evidence that point to the real killer and are not interested in him in the slightest.
  • Mistaken for Badass: Nelson by the killer, because of the way he keeps turning up right on his trail, like some kind of "supercop." Not by anyone else, though.
    Fred Holden: The Nelson Hibbert I know is incapable of murder! Not morally, but physically.
  • Noodle Implements: Nelson is told its possible to kill someone with only two teabags and some wax paper. When attacked by the villain he waves these items around in the air since he has no idea how it's supposed to work.
  • Obviously Evil: Farmer Brown.
    Officer Arlen: So you're sure the murderer is in that bank?
    Brown: Most definitely. Nyahahahaha!
    Arlen: Why are you laughing like that?
    Brown: Like what?
    Arlen: You know. Weird. Creepy.
    Brown: It's… uh… allergies.
  • Overly Long Gag: Nelson discovering his boss's dead body is essentially 3 minutes of Dave Foley screaming and trying to wipe his boss's blood off himself.
  • Parental Favoritism: Nelson assumes being married to his boss' daughter means he's got the promotion locked up, but it turns out Ken Daly is married to his favorite daughter. Nelson asks what kind of man has a favorite daughter (because they should label them as such if they do).
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Nelson tries to throw a towel over his head and walk around the motel parking lot pretending to be someone else. Since he's obviously too small and shrill to be the killer, however, he's completely ignored.
  • Reactive Continuous Scream: Nelson and the room full of people outside his dead boss's office when he walks out covered in blood and holding the murder weapon.
  • Run for the Border: Nelson is trying to get to Mexico, while the real killer hopes to leave the country with a Swiss passport.
  • Running Gag:
    • People keep mistaking Nelson for a woman because of his small stature and high-pitched voice.
    • Detective Arlen wants nothing to do with catching the killer and is constantly using the police's funding of his case to his advantage.
    • Lynn's narcolepsy.
  • Saving the Orphanage: Inverted. The small town where Lynn and her father live is under the thumb of the greedy Farmer Brown, who wants to demolish their bank and replace it with a cornfield. We see him on the phone with someone at one point, saying, "I don't care if that strip mall's been in your family for generations. Soon it'll be a pasture for dairy cattle, and there's nothing you can do about it."
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: The premise is a man who unnecessarily goes on the run because he's convinced the police think he's a murderer while the police know full well he isn't, making his entire 'escape' utterly pointless.
  • Sleepyhead: Lynn, a narcoleptic, keeps passing out at inopportune moments, like at the dramatic height of Nelson's confession, or while driving.
  • Sustained Misunderstanding: Exaggerated to the point where it's the underpinning of the whole movie. Nobody actually thinks Nelson killed his boss, but the police never track him down and tell him as much, so he spends the entire movie on the run. By sheer Contrived Coincidence, he keeps coming across the actual killer, who comes to think he's some kind of supercop hunting him down. The audience can see how wrong they both are, but neither of them realize it until the scene when they finally meet.
  • Tap on the Head: The killer knocks Nelson out with the butt of his gun and carries him part of the way into the miniature-golf course. When he notices that Nelson has woken up, he's indignant. Nelson innocently protests that he thought the killer wanted to carry him.
  • That Poor Car: Parodied. Lynn, during a narcoleptic episode, crashes the stolen catering truck into a van carrying a load of car alarms.
  • Torches and Pitchforks: To bring down the bank, Farmer Brown runs an article in his newspaper accusing Nelson (currently working as a teller) of killing Nagel, with this result. Lynn's father tries Shaming the Mob with a speech straight out of It's a Wonderful Life, to no avail.
    Fred Holden: Everybody, look! The money from this bank is in the town! Now you're not going to risk it all on the basis of one stupid rumor?
    Townsperson: Yes, we are!
  • The Unfavorite: Nelson thought he was a lock for the promotion as he's engaged to the boss' daughter. It turns out the guy who got it is engaged to the boss's favorite daughter.
  • Unpronounceable Alias: Nelson signs a fake name into the motel registry, but it's apparently unpronounceable. When the clerk tries to read it back, he stumbles, and Nelson tries to help him but is equally confused by the name he himself wrote down.
  • Weirdness Censor: No matter how conspicuous Nelson makes himself by trying to be inconspicuous, other characters never react beyond giving him strange looks.
  • Who Shot JFK?: The insane man who picks up the hitchhiking Nelson believes that "Kennedy's head just did that". He calls it "The No-Bullet Theory".