A man dressed as a clown (Bill Murray) gets off the New York Subway and makes his way, with a little difficulty thanks to his garb, his insistence on carrying a bunch of balloons, and the general unfriendliness of his fellow citizens, to the nearest bank. As he gets there the security guard is closing it, but the clown persuades him to allow him inside - a loaded gun will do that - and then announces to the staff and customers still present that this is a robbery. They ignore him until he fires off a couple of shots, and then they take notice, but the police have been called so how can he possibly get away with it?
Quick Change was a film that arrived on the cusp of the urban hell movie, where some hapless character or two will get stuck in the dreadful city for our amusement - this operated just as well for comedies as it did thrillers - and the style of suspense piece that returned with a vengeance in the nineties: the heist movie. Only this was a comedy heist movie, and often the way they will go is to frustrate the robbers, which can have the effect of not so much making the audience laugh, but making them as exasperated as the characters trying to get away with their crime. It's a curious thing, as they're plainly breaking the law, but you sort of want someone to get away with it.
That is probably to do with wishing to see a satisfying resolution to the plot, which can go the they get caught direction, or it can go the clean getaway direction, and Quick Change, well, this went both ways. The heist itself is a clever one, leaving us in the camp where we wish to see this ingenuity rewarded, but then again, if all went to plan then this would be a twenty minute long film. So once disgruntled town planner Grimm, Murray's character, gets out of the bank with all the cash we begin to see how he's done it, and the answer to that is partly that he had assistance from two accomplices, his girlfriend Phyllis (Geena Davis) and pal Loomis (Randy Quaid), who had posed as hostages but were actually helping get the money out.
If there's anyone who is exasperated from the get-go, it's the police chief Rotzinger (Jason Robards Jr), who arrives at the scene and unwillingly becomes a patsy to Grimm's machinations, but knowing he is losing face in the resulting media storm means he is not about to allow this farce to be his lasting legacy as he's retiring soon. Although they only share a couple of scenes, Murray and Robards make for fine adversaries, yet it's really the other antagonist which truly proves their mettle, and that is New York City itself. "I hate this town" observes Grimm, and it seems the feeling is mutual as every obstacle it can throw at him conspires to see that he remains there, trapped with money he cannot spend.
This is the only film that Murray ever directed, taking the reins along with his writer Howard Franklin after their original director Jonathan Demme couldn't make it, and he does a neat enough job with the comic performances of his cast, but nevertheless the overal impression is one of a more anonymous job for hire than a vital filmmaker with a genuine vision for his work. Odd that a talent like Murray should appear to be holding back, as this could have been a lot darker than it turned out to be, but his take on Grimm is of a man trying to keep his cool, so there is no major blowup scene, more of a "Can you believe this?" attitude. As a selection of faces, some more recognisable than others, step into each scene to foil the trio for the umpteenth time, there are points where the lunacy of the situation is quite inspired - the exact change bus driver coupled with the gangsters is a good sequence - but Quick Change never reaches it potential. Music by Randy Edelman.