Tag Archives: C

THE COMEDIAN

Producer: Art Linson, John Linson, Mark Canton, Courtney Solomon and Taylor Hackford
Director: Taylor Hackford
Writer: Art Linson, Jeff Ross, Richard LaGravenese and Lewis Friedman
Stars: Robert De Niro, Leslie Mann, Danny DeVito, Edie Falco, Harvey Keitel, Charles Grodin, Patti LuPone, Cloris Leachman, Veronica Ferres, Lois Smith, Billy Crystal, Jim Norton and Beth Malone
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics

C

One of the most important elements of a successful comedy stand-up routine—or a successful movie—is proper rhythm, and that’s something “The Comedian” sorely lacks. The expository scenes are separated throughout by simple establishing shots and footage of characters merely walking through the streets of New York City, always accompanied by jazzy music provided by Terence Blanchard that comes on like gangbusters. Over the course of two hours the back-and-forth becomes positively deadening.

That’s a problem of pacing. An even more serious one with the film is inconsistency, or simply a failure of nerve. The picture starts out as a portrait of a hard-hearted, cynical, brutally honest insult comic, and for a while it manages to be amusing by showing Jackie Burke (Robert De Niro) as gleefully nasty. But even early on it occasionally offers an indication that he’s really a nice fellow after all, and in the end it turns him into a total cream puff.

The best part of the film, in fact, is the first reel, in which Burke, remembered by most if at all for his starring role in a long-departed sitcom, is accosted by a heckler while doing a set at a nostalgia-themed comedy-club gig. When he attacks the guy (who’s having the confrontation filmed for his own podcast) and is put on trial for assault, his refusal to apologize to the man—indeed, he infuriates the judge by insulting him—earns him a month in the slammer. Though the video of the event goes viral, it doesn’t revive his career.

When Jackie gets out he still has a hundred hours of community service to perform, and at the soup kitchen he meets Harmony (Leslie Mann), who’s doing her hours for going after her unfaithful boyfriend and the woman he was in bed with. They click despite the age difference, first as friends and then in a romantic way that’s a little unsettling. She accompanies him to his niece’s same-sex wedding (where he’s prodded to make some remarks that infuriate his sister-in-law, played like a virago by Patti LuPone, while his brother, played by Danny DeVito, is more tolerant); in turn he accompanies her to a birthday dinner for her father, a sneering ex-gangster played by Harvey Keitel, who tries to run her life. Then Jackie and Harmony have a night together and she leaves to work in her father’s old-age home in Florida.

Though Mann puts a lot of energy into her role, this section of the film doesn’t register as strongly as it should: the writing lacks sharpness and Taylor Hackford’s direction is lackadaisical. But what follows is worse. In Harmony’s absence Burke’s inexplicably dedicated agent (Edie Falco, looking stricken) uses her powers of persuasion to get Jackie a spot on the dais of a televised roast for a so-called comedy legend (Cloris Leachman) despite the bad blood between him and the event’s host (Charles Grodin). Given the talent involved, this sequence should have been a killer. It is, in a literal sense, since it ends in tragedy; but it’s only Burke’s reaction—a complaint that he didn’t get around to using his best material—that really cuts.

There follows Jackie’s journey to Florida for an autograph-signing convention, and a visit to Harmony, who gives him some surprising news (though viewers will probably not be as shocked by it as he is). Of equal importance, though, is an impromptu bit that he does for the geriatric residents, a riff on “Making Whoopie” that he retitles “Making Poopy.” We’re supposed to believe not only that his audience goes wild, but that video of this goes viral too, bringing him such renewed renown that he’s offered the hosting job on a nasty TV game show called “Cry Uncle,” in which contestants suffer humiliation (and physical pain) to win prizes. How Jackie responds to that, and to Harmony’s news, makes him a new man—or reveals, perhaps, the guy he always was. That makes for a sadly conventional conclusion to a movie that wants to be edgy but winds up as sappy and toothless as one could imagine.

De Niro gives the title role his all—which, of course, is considerable—but his gruff, bearlike quality doesn’t prove a perfect fit for it, and his stand-up skill seems distinctly limited. (This was reportedly a passion project for him, and it’s curious that it joins “Silence,” a similar passion project for his frequent collaborator Martin Scorsese, in not reaching its potential.) It’s fun to see such stalwarts as DeVito, Falco, Keitel, Grodin, LuPone, Leachman—and even De Niro’s old co-star Billy Crystal in a cameo—again; but none of them is particularly well used; pedestrian writing and lackluster direction do them all in.

“The Comedian” isn’t an attractive-looking picture: Oliver Stapleton’s cinematography is bland, even in the Florida scenes, and Mark Warner’s editing is bumpy, leading to that oddly unsatisfying rhythm, which is only accentuated by Blanchard’s score, recorded at overloud volume.

Precisely what drew De Niro to this script isn’t clear, but his recent choice of material has hardly been infallible. (Remember “Dirty Grandpa”?) “The Comedian” isn’t terrible, just mediocre—like a stand-up routine that barely earns a chuckle, let alone a belly-laugh.

GOLD

Producer: Teddy Schwarzman, Michael Nozik, Patrick Massett, John Zinman and Matthew McConaughey
Director: Stephen Gaghan
Writer: Patrick Massett and John Zinman
Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Edgar Ramirez, Bryce Dallas Howard, Joshua Harto, Timothy Simons, Michael Landes, Corey Stoll, Toby Kebbell, Bruce Greenwood, Stacy Keach, Craig T. Nelson, Bill Camp, Rachael Taylor, Macon Blair, Bhavesh Patel and Jirayu Tantrakul
Studio: The Weinstein Company

C

The scandal that brought down the Canadian Bre-X mining company in the mid-nineties is the inspiration behind “Gold,” but to call Stephen Gaghan’s film a dramatization of the episode would be an exaggeration as great as any spouted by Matthew McConaughey’s over-the-top self-styled prospector in the movie. Though the script by Patrick Massett and John Zinman borrows the general outline and a few details from the historical record, it uses them to confect a story far closer to fiction than documentary. Buoyed by McConaughey’s unabashedly way-out performance, the result is sporadically amusing but inconsistent and, in the end, unsatisfying.

In this version, McConaughey plays one Kenny Wells, who inherits the Reno, Nevada mining company Washoe founded by his granddad and built up by his father (a single-scene cameo by Craig T. Nelson). An economic downturn in the 1980s practically destroys the operation; Kenny is reduced to calling prospective investors from the watering-hole where his long-suffering girlfriend Kay (Bryce Dallas Howard) tends bar.

When all his attempts to start up a new prospecting scheme locally come to naught, Kenny heads to Indonesia to offer a partnership to Mike Acosta (Edgar Ramirez), a geologist whose theory of a “Ring of Fire” along the Pacific Rim once appeared to be vindicated by a huge copper strike but has since had little success. Certain that Acosta’s belief in a massive gold deposit far inland along a river is correct, Wells promises to provide funding for an exploratory dig at a site Acosta indicates as especially promising, and after a long process—including a protracted bout with malaria for Wells—they strike what tests indicate is a rich deposit.

So rich, in fact, that sharks are soon circling—particularly the aptly-named New York investment banker Brian Woolf (Corey Stoll), who initially promises Kenny both wealth and independence but in the end tries to orchestrate the takeover of the operation by shady mogul Mark Hancock (Bruce Greenwood). Wells also manages to lose Kay as a result of his overly friendly conversations with one of Woolf’s associates (Rachael Hill). When Wells tries to remain independent, Hancock uses political pressure to take over the operation, but you can’t keep Kenny and Mike down for long: they outsmart their rivals by doing business with the black sheep of President Suharto’s family, Danny (Jirayu Tantrakul).

But just as Wells seems to have triumphed, a twist sends everything into the tailspin that marked the Bre-X scandal. A series of flash-forwards to an interview Kenny has with a young fellow named Jennings (Toby Kebbell) is intercut with staged scenes of the aftermath to complement the voiceover from Wells that’s dominated the storytelling until the final reel, which Gaghan closes with a shot that leaves the question of who did what and when deliberately ambiguous.

There’s some rambunctious fun to all the financial shenanigans, especially because McConaughey throws himself into his role with such gusto. Boasting a pot belly (which, to be sure, isn’t entirely consistent), a snaggletooth grin and a bad comb-over, and almost always wielding a cigarette, a drink or both, he cuts a larger-than-life figure as the brash redneck who never seems to settle down, except when he’s bedridden with malaria. By contrast, Ramirez is the cool, collected customer, impeccably dressed even in the jungle heat, who looks comfortable while Wells sweats profusely stripped down to his tighty-whiteys. They’re obviously intended to be the odd couple of the prospecting game, and the duo pull off the act decently enough, even if McConaughey is clearly the senior partner.

There are some colorful supporting turns, most notably by Stoll and Tantrakul, and Stacey Keach shows up briefly as a Reno banker. But Howard gets short shrift as Kay, though she looks terrific in a New York party scene. Cinematographer Robert Elswit brings a degree of visual energy to the images that matches the extreme extroversion of McConaughey’s performance, and the other technical technical contributions are pro down the line. The Indonesian sequences, shot in Thailand, certainly boast an authentic feel.

In the end, though, “Gold” works better as a pure star vehicle than as a tale of the dark side of the American Dream. McConaghey is fun to watch, but the narrative he dominates is less clever than its makers apparently hoped.