The Comedian (2017)


Robert De Niro kills it in an entirely different context.

(2017) Dramedy (Sony Classics) Robert De Niro, Leslie Mann, Harvey Keitel, Edie Falco, Danny DeVito, Patti LuPone, Charles Grodin, Cloris Leachman, Lucy DeVito, Billy Crystal, Veronica Ferres, Lois Smith, Jessica Kirson, Jim Norton, Jimmie Walker, Brett Butler, Gilbert Gottfried, Hannibal Buress, Bill Boggs, Nick Di Paolo, Freddie Roman, Greer Barnes, Sheng Wang, Aida Rodriguez  Directed by Taylor Hackford

 

The life of a stand-up comic is nothing like you might think it is. Glamour is rare for one of those worthies; while someone like a Kevin Hart might work arenas and stay in first class hotels for the most part when stand-ups tour at all they play small clubs and stay in fairly cheap hotels or worse. Sometimes they get a sitcom and things get better but what happens when the sitcom is canceled?

Jackie Burke (De Niro) is living that particular dream. Once on top of the world in the successful sitcom Eddie’s Home back in the 80s, he is back to doing club gigs in his native New York and mostly what audiences want to hear are his signature Eddie catch phrases. At this point Jackie wants to distance himself from Eddie as much as possible but when hecklers push him into a corner and it turns out those same hecklers are trying to goad him deliberately for a vlog, Jackie loses it and ends up getting charged with assault and battery.

Jackie does 30 days jail time and then is given community service at a soup kitchen. The video of his blow up has itself blown up so his long-suffering agent (Falco) can’t get him a bar mitzvah let alone a paying gig. Still, things are looking up – he meets a young woman named Harmony (Mann) who is a co-worker at the soup kitchen. The two hit it off as friends and he takes her to a comedy show where he is asked to go on stage when a comedian cancels at the last minute; his set is one of the best of his career and that starts going viral. Suddenly, things are looking up.

Being Jackie Burke however means that if things are looking up, he must find a way to sabotage himself. It doesn’t help that Harmony has a father (Keitel) who wants her to come back to Florida and work at one of the homes for the elderly that he owns; dad is a bit of a jerk to put it mildly and, well, you can guess the rest.

In fact, that’s a big problem here; you can guess the rest and often do. De Niro remains one of the great actors of his generation and I don’t think he’s ever disgraced himself in a single performance; he is solid enough here and is convincing as a stand-up performer with an anger issue. He is almost always the best part of any movie he’s in and that’s surely the case here.

Mann is herself a capable actress whose appearance in her husband Judd Apatow’s films have been stepping stones to better and more noticeable roles. Some of her dramatic range is hinted at here and I sure wouldn’t mind if we saw her in a wider variety of roles than we’ve heretofore seen her in. Considering the age difference portrayed on screen, the romance feels a bit awkward and at times unbelievable but Mann’s a pro and you can see that there is some chemistry between her and De Niro. She performs more than capably in a movie where she deserved a little better; count me as a fan.

The relationship between colleagues in the stand-up community is very much love-hate. They are competitors often for the same jobs, but at the same time they have the bonds of going into the trenches together, the shared experiences of deprivation, disrespect and dysfunction. They can all relate to one another and there’s often mutual respect but they also heckle each other mercilessly backstage. The movie captures this bond (with a number of working stand-ups playing themselves) beautifully.

The movie falls apart at the end. I won’t go into details but all the good will the movie manages to build up through the first hour plus is wasted with an ending that is equal parts ludicrous and demeaning to the audience. When the lights came up I saw more than one gape-jawed expression on an audience member’s face and I’m sure my own expression wasn’t too dissimilar. Sadly, Hackford and company ignored one of the first rules of comedy; never ever squash your own punchline.

REASONS TO GO: A really terrific cast that for once isn’t wasted drives the film. The depiction of the lives of stand-ups is convincing.
REASONS TO STAY: Some of the scenes feel a little bit awkward and overly familiar. The ending is preposterous.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s plenty of profanity including some fairly crude sexual references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: De Niro received stand-up comedy training from Jessica Kirson, whose signature move – talking to herself sotto voce – is one he adapted for the movie.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/19/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 25% positive reviews. Metacritic: 40/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Punchline
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: I Am Not Your Negro

Role Models


Role Models

Ken Jeong points out that it's good to be the king; Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Paul Rudd are chagrinned to find it's not good to be serfs.

(Universal) Paul Rudd, Seann William Scott, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jane Lynch, Bobb’e J. Thompson, Elizabeth Banks, Ken Jeong. Directed by David Wain

With the popularity of comedies produced/directed/written/overseen/obliquely referred to by Judd Apatow, it is inevitable that there will be copycat comedies trying to milk the same cow. However, as any good comedy writer will tell you, a good comedy isn’t just stringing a whole bunch of jokes together, unless you’re writing Airplane.

Danny Donahue (Rudd) has been in a foul mood for about eight years now. He is stuck in a dead-end job pimping energy drinks to bored high school kids under the guise of an anti-drug crusade; he has drunk enough of these drinks to make his urine change color permanently. His sales partner Wheeler (Scott) dresses like a Minotaur (the mascot of the drink), talks incessantly in motivational poster sound bites, and has a libido the size of Texas and Alaska, combined.

His temperament hasn’t gone unnoticed by Beth (Banks), his girlfriend who he just proposed to. She can’t imagine staying with a downer like Danny for another minute, much less the rest of her life. She dumps him, which does nothing to soften Danny’s mood.

After wrecking the company vehicle (a kind of monster truck with a bull on it) and getting involved with a fracas with the security officers at the school they’re appearing with, the two are arrested and sentenced to 150 hours of community service at a Big Brother-style charity called Sturdy Wings, run in no-nonsense style by ex-coke whore Gayle Sweeny (Lynch) who makes the average drill sergeant look like Stuart Smalley.

The two are given a couple of difficult cases. Danny gets Augie (Mintz-Plasse), a nerdy sort who plays a LARP-style game called LAIRE (LARP, for those not in the know, stands for Live Action Role Playing and consists of people in medieval garb bashing each other with foam swords, maces, hammers and shields in mock battles, which is a very simplified explanation of the game). I suppose to say he plays the game is a lot like saying an alcoholic has a drink now and then; the game is Augie’s life.

For his part, Wheeler gets Ronnie (Thompson), a foul-mouthed anti-social kid whose single mom isn’t sure how to handle her attitude-drenched son. Still, Wheeler and Ronnie find some common ground in their fascination for the female breast. Yeah, I know – ain’t bonding grand?

As the two men learn something from the two boys, their inherent disposition towards messing up catches up with them and they basically have their two charges taken away from them, which will mean jail time for the both of them unless they can think of a way to get back in the good graces of the boys, their parents and Gayle. Who knows, if they can do all that, maybe Danny can win back Beth while he’s at it.

This is one of those scattershot comedies where the filmmakers basically throw everything they can get their hands on at the walls and hope something sticks. Rudd and Scott actually have a pretty decent comic chemistry together and their characters are nicely fleshed out. Rudd gets a great riff in about the difference between large and venti which serves to piss Beth off but the rest of us (those that don’t live and die by Starbucks) will find it dead on while Scott continues the shtick that worked so well for him in Evolution.

Lynch, who since this was made has migrated over to “Glee” where she’s become one of the hottest comic actresses in the business, shows some of that ability, basically owning the screen whenever she’s on. It wouldn’t surprise me to see her headlining a big screen comedy venture in the very near future. Likewise, Jeong who hadn’t hit cult status with The Hangover when he made this, treads very familiar territory very well in his role here as the King.

In fact, that’s one of the things about the movie that holds it back – it really doesn’t do anything new or push the envelope at all. One of the things that made Apatow comedies like Superbad and Knocked Up so good is that they consistently took the comic genre they were working in and turned them on their heads. Role Models essentially takes basic comedy formula and follows it to the letter. That’s not a bad thing if you do it really well – and by that I mean reeeeeeeeeeeally well – but Role Models merely does it adequately. That’s not enough to put my butt in a bandwagon seat, so all I can really say for it is that while it has heart enough to make it worth seeing, it doesn’t have enough soul to make it a priority.

WHY RENT THIS: Scott and Rudd have good comic chemistry and Jane Lynch is a hoot in just about everything she does.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Pretty much a standard Hollywood comedy with no real surprises.

FAMILY VALUES: This is crude enough and sexual enough that I’d probably think twice before letting pre-teens see this; it’s more along the lines of mature teens in my opinion.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The “Paul McCartney” song played over the closing credits is actually McCartney impersonator Joey Curatolo.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: While there are plenty of standard features on the DVD edition (including a blooper reel), the Blu-Ray is packed with interesting features, including a design your own LARP logo feature called “Ye Olde Crest Maker,” some in-character interviews, some Sturdy Wings videos (available through the BD Live feature) and Universal’s always-fun U-Control feature.

FINAL RATING: 4.5/10

TOMORROW: World’s Greatest Dad