Attempting to profile Alfred Hitchcock in a 98-minute movie is akin to having a death wish. Youd be better off getting your eyes pecked out a la Suzanne Pleshette in The Birds. But first-time feature director Sacha Gervasi gives it a whirl anyway. And guess what? His Hitchcock aint half bad. Shallow and totally unnecessary, but not bad. And thats saying something, considering Oscar-winners Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren are so woefully miscast as Hitch and his wife and chief collaborator, Alma Reville.

Despite being buried under prosthetics and enough padding to stuff a king-size mattress, Hopkins is fooling no one with his lame impersonation of historys most famed director. He makes a half-hearted attempt at latching onto that distinctive speech pattern, but pretty much cedes it a couple scenes in, reverting to just being Tony in a cheesy Hitch getup. Mirren, however, is sensational as Alma, the woman who was invaluable to her husband when it came to casting, editing and polishing scripts. But she is simply too tall and beautiful to portray a woman as short and dowdy as Alma, leaving Mirrens fine performance straining credulity.

What saves it is a script by John J. McLaughlin (co-writer of Black Swan) that is irresistibly light and airy in its chronicling of the dozen or so months in which Hitchs biggest hit, Psycho, was conceived, shot and premiered to worldwide acclaim. McLaughlin and Gervasi (an Oscar-winner for Anvil! The Story of Anvil) wisely incorporate a lets put on a show vibe that finds Hitch and Alma battling naysayers, vindictive actors and meddling studio chiefs in their dogged pursuit of doing something no one had ever done: an arty horror picture.

If, like me, youre well-versed in every triviality about Psycho, youll find Hitchcock rather stingy with its revelations. About the only thing I didnt know was that Hitch hated Bernard Herrmanns startling staccato score that accompanies the films famous shower scene. The rest is pretty common knowledge, including Hitchs bitter feud with Vera Miles, played by Jessica Biel in yet another bit of curious casting. In fact, the insight is so short, McLaughlin is compelled to invent a potentially dangerous flirtation between Alma and fellow screenwriter Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston). That, plus serial killer Ed Gein (the real-life inspiration for Norman Bates) making guest appearances in Hitchs dreams, are too ridiculous to believe, making the films steady stream of humor ever more invaluable.

And, boy, is Hitchcock funny, which should come as no surprise to anyone who grew up watching Hitchs hilarious intros to his weekly TV anthology show. Not only was he the master of suspense, he was the master of deadpan humor. My favorite moment, though, is the sight of a rotund Hitch hitching a ride with his gorgeous leading lady, Janet Leigh (very well played by Scarlett Johansson), in her tiny Volkswagen Beetle. Still, I could have done without the cheap, homophobic jokes about Anthony Perkins (nicely portrayed by an effete James DArcy). Same for the smug shots the film takes at legendary studio boss Barney Balaban (Richard Portnow), who is made to look foolish for doubting that Psycho would ever become anything more than what he labeled st. Ah, aint hindsight grand?

What does ring true about Hitchcock is the devotion and respect underscoring Hitch and Almas partnership, on and off the soundstage. They were one of Hollywoods all-time great couples. And despite all the dirt the movie flings at them, their love remains a beacon that never fails to shine through.

HITCHCOCK (PG-13) Cast includes Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Jessica Biel, Danny Huston and Scarlett Johansson.