“Flo, what have you done to my little brother?! He was six feet tall when you got married,” jokes Jackie Burke (Robert De Niro) during an improv stand-up comedy routine at his niece’s wedding in The Comedian, a comedy/drama from director Taylor Hackford.
Ex-sitcom star and past his prime comic Jackie is struggling with what’s left of his career. After letting a heckler get to him and punching the guy out, Jackie is forced to serve time in jail and perform community service. It’s while he’s helping serve dinner at a homeless shelter, serving up a few laughs along with food to those in need, that he meets Harmony (Leslie Mann). Harmony’s also paying off her debt to society by helping the homeless after hitting her ex-husband with an object during their last fight.
Despite their 30 year age difference, Jackie and Harmony are drawn to one another and an awkward but fun friendship begins. The unlikely pair quickly become each other’s wing man/woman, with Harmony accompanying Jackie to his niece’s wedding where he has to face his brother (Danny DeVito) and his sister-in-law, Flo (Patti LuPone). In return, Jackie agrees to surprise Harmony’s sleazy, corrupt father (Harvey Keitel) who’s a big fan of his from his sitcom days.
Neither Jackie nor Harmony want anything to do with their own families and neither have a supportive group of friends to turn to for advice or comfort. Naturally that leads Jackie and Harmony to wonder just how close they can get to each other and where their friendship will lead.
Robert De Niro plays Jackie as an old grouchy New Yorker whose best comedy moments were scripted in the sitcom he starred in years ago. He still resents not being able to escape its shadow. Leslie Mann plays Harmony as basically the same character she always does, a neurotic, emotional, clingy, irrational and annoying mess. Mann has zero chemistry with either De Niro and Keitel. Harvey Keitel plays her father Mac as a one-dimensional, rich, obnoxious, over-the-hill thug, a character who adds nothing to this laughless movie.
Stilted, uneven, and excruciatingly slow, The Comedian‘s grade-A cast is saddled with a weak script that fails to generate any laughs. The Comedian is a horrible waste of extremely talented actors, and the screenplay credited to four writers (Art Linson, Jeffrey Ross, Richard LaGravenese, and Lewis Friedman) lacks any character development. The writing is especially disappointing in De Niro’s stand-up comedy scenes where, given the film’s title and premise, you’d expect a joke or two to actually land. The stand-up scenes are uncomfortable, forced, and filled with vulgar jokes, and De Niro’s delivery is jarringly bad.
Theaters should follow the example of old-time comedy clubs and yank The Comedian swiftly off the stage with a hook.
MPAA Rating: R for crude sexual references and language throughout
Running Time: 119 minutes