Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Film Review | Funny People

Death Becomes Him

by Thomas Delapa

What can you say about a crass fortysomething comic who’s dying?

An excruciatingly unfunny requiem for a lightweight, Funny People is writer/director Judd Apatow’s moribund vehicle for Adam Sandler, rather cleverly cast as a doomed Hollywood comic. Nobody gets out alive in this semi-suicidal bomb, least of all the audience.

In the wake of such R-rated hits as The 40 Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up, Apatow turns to the grave, casting his one-time roommate as George Simmons, a comic-turned-actor who’s diagnosed with a terminal disease. George’s only hope is a crash diet of experimental drugs. Otherwise, it’s curtains for the millionaire star of Merman and My Best Friend is a Robot.

While George prepares for his final exit, Ira (Seth Rogen) is struggling to break in doing stand-up in L.A. comedy clubs. Once George catches Ira’s act, he implausibly takes him under his wing, hiring him as both writer and crony. It’s just the break that Ira’s been dreaming about, introducing him to the world of plush limos, free plasma TVs and jiggly groupies.

Apatow’s title, of course, is meant to be downed with several grains of salt. Within all those “funny people” we see on stage lies a pool of aggression and pain, no doubt simmering since the first time a hot girl gave them the brush-off. Whether George, Ira or Ira’s roommates (Jonah Hill, Jason Schwartzman), Apatow feeds us a steady stream of limp sex jokes typical of the cable-ready male comic today. Apatow’s one female jester (Aubrey Plaza), a bespectacled zombie with the sexual scruples of a tomcat, is no better.

Unless you’re entertained by potty-mouthed half-wits, Funny People will be a bitter pill to swallow. Apatow peoples the background with clubby cameos from the likes of Andy Dick and Sarah Silverman. Nor will many be amused by Apatow’s blindly nepotistic casting of his wife, Leslie Mann, and brood of cloying kids.

Even if you’re willing to roll with the oddball premise--spiked by a few random laughs by Rogen and Hill--the film begins a death spiral during George and Ira’s weekend trip to visit George’s married ex-girlfriend, played by Mann. Mann is a comedienne best taken in small doses (like her role as the nauseous lush in Virgin), but here Apatow’s uxorious featured treatment distills into box-office poison. As Mann’s obnoxious Aussie husband, Eric Bana will make no one believe he started his career doing stand-up.

Throughout this two-hour ordeal, the paunchy Sandler hardly stands out--whether impersonating a comic or a tragedienne At 44, the still-juvenile star of Billy Madison and Don’t Mess With the Zohan remains with us. It’s his public that needs a cure.


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