During the 1950s and 60s, quite a few Charlie Chan movies were produced. J. Carroll Nash played the character for 39 episodes in a 1957 TV series. Now Peter Ustinov steps into the role. We are happy to report that he wears it well. Charlie Chan and The Curse of the Dragon Queen is the first giant comedy hit of 1981. Screenplay writers Stan Burns and David Axlerod have done a bang-up job creating a cast of wacky characters; they give this slapstick flick an abundance of humor.

The setting is contemporary San Francisco. The city is in an uproar over a series of bizarre murders. The police are baffled and decide to call Charlie Chan out of retirement. The great detective seems to be surrounded by crazies. Mrs. Lupowitz (Lee Grant) is a daft widow who talks to her departed husband's ashes in an urn and tolerates the eccentricities of her staff — namely a rude butler (Roddy McDowall) in a wheelchair and a paranoid maid (the late Rachel Roberts).

Lee Chan, Jr. (Richard Hatch), Charlie's grandson, is an aspiring private eye whose only client so far is a disgruntled little girl who slaps him around for not being able to find her lost cat. In fact, there isn't much that Lee Chan, Jr. can do without klutzing it up. His adoring fiancée (Michelle Pfeiffer), however, is completely blind to all his flaws and follows him around as if he were her seeing-eye dog. Rounding out this cast of characters on the side of the law is Brian Keith, a pill-popping police chief who is a bundle of fits and frets. On the side of disorder is Angie Dickinson as The Dragon Queen. Charlie Chan sent her to prison years ago and now she's out to get him.

Clive Donner, who also directed What's New Pussycat?, keeps this comedy at full throttle throughout.