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Weekend TV promises lots of laughs. CBS movie finds humor in criminal capers in international art world

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Hot Paint ``CBS Sunday Movie,'' 9-11 p.m. Comedy starring Gregory Harrison and John Larroquette. ``Everybody freeze, or the fat babe gets it,'' shouts Gus to the police massed outside a Boston art gallery, as he points a pistol at his hostage.

Even this early in the made-for-TV comedy, it's no shock to learn who the hostage is - not a real person, but a plump nude figure in the multimillion-dollar Renoir painting Gus is clutching. And the effete gallery-owner is much too concerned about the canvas to let the police act.

The scene is typical of this gleeful, featherweight farce, which manages to mock - often entertainingly - every target of opportunity in its bizarre journey through the international art world. In Gus's comic escape, for instance, there are lots of direct and indirect hits, like oddball gallery types who don't bother distinguishing people from paintings - especially priceless ones. Even TV drama itself is a target: The escape is a satiric swipe at prime-time ``action drama'' formulas.

Gus (John Larroquette) has involved Phil (Gregory Harrison) in the theft of the Renoir in New York, and from there on they are ducking killers and brazening their way in and out of exotic settings on both sides of the Atlantic.

Along the way, Harrison's role as an aspiring actor lets him don disguises and impersonate everything from a dreadlocked Jamaican at a party to an imperious Arab crashing an elegant London art auction.

Harrison does this well, but the production's real attraction is its wise-guy attitude toward all it encounters - and the way the chemistry between the two semi-disreputable men constantly rekindles this attitude. All is fodder for their ``hip'' cracks, made toward each other and to the world in general. The show makes fun of the unhip on every hand - the rich, the studious, an old lady's attachment to a little dog - and especially the art establishment. Even the theft of the Renoir is a satire: It turns out the owner doesn't want it back - it would ruin his insurance scam. In fact, he's claiming that five paintings were stolen.

It's an old plot staple, of course: ``with- it'' guys jauntily surviving an outrageous world and making you laugh at the spectacle. Their repartee helps viewers through an otherwise routine farce that includes scenes like plastering real gunman with eggs from a slingshot.

Fortunately, the show keeps returning to this crackling current of wisecracks, which quickly become our link to a crude emotional plausibility in the midst of a crazy story. As their capers become more and more outrageous, it is fun to watch these two puncture every pomposity within comic range.


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