By Mark Saldana
Rating: 2 (Out of 4 Stars)
Taylor Hackford’s newest film is a bewildering and sometimes frustrating mess that does have some hilarious moments, but also has some painfully unfunny moments and poor development of its main character. Robert De Niro stars as a one-time comic superstar barely hanging on to the remains of a career in an age that seems to celebrate banality. It is a well-intended and spot-on critique for a movie; however, this films really bungles all of its good intentions and fails to make a bold enough statement through a dull and sometimes unlikable protagonist. The Comedian might offer a few sharp-witted, cheap laughs, but in the grand scheme of things fails in delivering its punch line.
Insult comic Jackie Burke (De Niro) may have had a decent career in stand-up for a while, but in recent years has had to beg for a gig performing on the cheap. Burke made a name for himself as a sitcom star several years ago, but this success has a downside. His fans have no interest in any of his new comic material and only wish to hear his lame one-liners from the old program. When heckled by an audience member during a show, Jackie loses his temper and gets arrested for assault. As part of his sentence, Jackie does community service at a local soup kitchen where he becomes enamored with another volunteer named Harmony (Leslie Mann). As he becomes better acquainted with her, Jackie tries to salvage his failing career and some of his activities get attention on the internet, but this newer medium proves to be a double-edged sword.
Though this movie offers a valid critique of the state of comedy and entertainment today, Hackford’s movie certainly needs more interesting writing to really drive it home. Written by Art Linson, Jeff Ross, Richard LaGravenese, and Lewis Friedman, The Comedian attempts to portray the troubles and frustrations of an old-school comedian who genuinely wants to make it in the modern age of internet videos, faux celebrities, and in a culture which seems to value ineptness and hokum over creativity and talent. Hackford fails by presenting this message in a very dull and prosaic way with the usual cliches and tropes one would expect with a movie about a comedian.
De Niro delivers a decent performance, but the development of his character is mostly dull and flat with only some hilarious moments during some of his stand-up acts. Conversely, these said acts also feature loads of comedic duds. To its credit, the movie does feature other funny moments having to do with Harmony the love interest, and Leslie Mann performs in this role with much chutzpah. The film also has an endearing performance by Danny DeVito who portrays Jackie’s youngest brother and a fine performance by Patti LuPone as Jackie’s sister-in-law. It is a fine performance in an otherwise stereotypical caricature. The film also features a tremendous cast of real comedians, most of whom are portraying themselves, but these roles add little to no flavor to an already bland movie.
And as bland as this movie is, I have no choice, but to recommend not wasting your time or money at the theater to see it. The movie tries too hard in some areas and tries too little in others, but results in a sometimes entertaining failure. As I previous stated, the movie does offer a few good laughs, but one really is better off watching a solid comedic act by a real comedian, instead of filmmakers attempting to recreate the experience. A few minutes of any Bill Hicks performance will drive the same message home better than this two hour film tries to do.