If you're seeking a flick designed to heavy-handedly showcase legends like Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, Cloris Leachman, Danny DeVito, Patti LuPone and Charles Grodin while simultaneously celebrating and eviscerating stand-up comedy, take this film. Take this film, please.
De Niro is Jackie Burke, a washed-up comic best remembered as the star of a 1980s sitcom, Eddie's Home, an even crappier incarnation of Married With Children. Though he's stuck with the stigma of Eddie, Jackie longs to spew his own obscenity-laden, mean, bitter material instead of the more polite, trite fare of his TV alter ego.
Booked by his agent (Edie Falco) into a "nostalgia night" alongside Brett Butler and Jimmie Walker (as themselves), he's heckled by a fan who, disappointed he's not doing his Eddie shtick, reminds Jackie he's there to work for the audience. "OK, boss," Jackie responds angrily, "how about you give me an early Christmas present and tongue my balls?" He follows up this endearing comment by assaulting the audience member with a microphone, a crime that earns him 30 days in jail and 100 hours of community service.
While fulfilling the terms of his sentence in a soup kitchen, Jackie meets Harmony (Leslie Mann), who has also been given community service for a crime that – like most of the other plot points – is never fully fleshed out. That Jackie and Harmony attend the wedding of Jackie's niece (whom we don't really know or care about) and end up having a weird romantic connection, despite their age difference, is typical of The Comedian. The same goes for Danny DeVito being cast as De Niro's brother, despite the preposterous differences in look, personality and height.
Perhaps if those differences – or the other aspects of the film that stretch credibility – had been played for farce, The Comedian would have been watchable. Instead, the poor pacing, stale writing and pretentious parade of cameos (wait for the one in the elevator) produce a film and a main character that aren't interesting, relatable or humorous. De Niro does bring some energy, but that energy is dampened by the annoying jazz score and lackluster editing. The latter is particularly bad thanks to the lazy fades and dissolves, not to mention the inclusion of at least three scenes that could have been excised to reduce the two-hour runtime. Surprisingly, it's the always underrated Mann who is the funniest and most charismatic, despite her character's odd motivations and her lack of chemistry with both De Niro and Keitel, who plays her scumbag father and phones in his performance, as does DeVito.
De Niro has portrayed a stand-up comic before, in The King of Comedy, a vastly superior Martin Scorsese film. Scorsese was attached to direct The Comedian too, until the task fell to Sean Penn, then Mike Newell, then finally Taylor Hackford (An Officer and a Gentleman, Ray), who now has the distinction – along with writer Art Linson and his three screenplay collaborators – of creating a character not even Rupert Pupkin would want to kidnap.
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