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Rashida Jones, Bill Murray

“ON THE ROCKS”  My rating: B (Now on Apple +)

96 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Bill Murray and his gleefully smarmy insouciance have been part of our collective unconscious for so long — more than four decades now — that it’s easy to forget that he is one formidable actor.

And to prove that point one need look no further than Sofia Coppola’s “On the Rocks,” a father/daughter road trip that chugs along without a misstep, providing along the way many an opportunity for Murray to do his glorious thing.

The premise is simple enough. Approaching 40, with two young children to care for and a writing career that appears stalled, New Yorker Laura (Rashida Jones) is a envious of her husband Dean (Marlon Wayans), an entrepeurial type working on a big project that requires much travel, usually in the company of his team of young go-getters.

Laura’s doubts about herself and her marriage go from lukewarm bath to slow-simmer when her father, famous art dealer and inveterate womanizer Felix (Murray), puts a bug in her ear.  Could Dean be having a fling with one of his young helpers?

Felix, after all, is a past master of marital deception; he knows the signs of a cheating husband and doesn’t want his little girl blindsided in the same way as when he broke up with Laura’s mother decades earlier.

Or could it be that in maturity he’s desperate to connect with the child he once almost drove away? That he has an agenda beyond Dean’s presumed infidelity?

Basically what we’ve got here is a comic mystery in which father-and-daughter sleuths go searching for proof of Dean’s fooling around. It’s a quest that will have them crashing swank Manhattan  soirees and even a Mexican resort.

Mostly, though, it provides a series of opportunities for superbly written and performed verbal exchanges.

Jones is terrific as a woman whose faith in her marriage is tested but never shattered. Her attitude toward Felix — equal parts loving admiration and clear-eyed suspicion — is precisely limned. And she has a great third-act monologue in which she tells off her old man for his selfishness.

But of course Laura is the straight-man role. Murray’s the one who gets one standout moment after the other.  In one marvelous scene he talks his way into the good graces of a NYPD cop who has pulled him over for racing his red convertible through Soho: “Are you Tommy Callaghan’s kid?” he asks after reading the officer’s name tag. “I don’t know why I didn’t make you right away. You’re a dead ringer.”

Before it’s over he has not only sweet talked his way out of a traffic ticket, but he gets the city’s finest to provide a running jump start for his temperamental roadster.

Just about every woman who encounters this sad-eyed Lothario seems to get a buzz off him. Laura is no exception.  The guy is remarkably entertaining.  In one instance Felix has her  walk backwards through a cocktail party — that way the hostess won’t realize they’re leaving early.

And at a posh Mexican resort where Dean is attending some sort of business deal, Laura finds her father serenading the other guests with a pretty righteous rendition of “Mexicali Rose.”

Coppola provides her leads with a late confrontation in which Laura reveals the many times she’s been hurt by her father, and Felix tries to explain how a mistress gave him the “glow” his wife no longer bestowed.

With its love of the big city “On the Rocks” sometimes feels like a long-lost Woody Allen effort, but Coppola is very much her own auteur; it’s doubtful that Allen or any male writer/director could have so succinctly captured Laura’s predicament.

The result is an amusing film that ultimately delivers a few deep lessons.

| Robert W. Butler

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