‘The Comedian’ Needs a New Punchline

Robert DeNiro stars in ‘The Comedian,’ a new comedy-drama that worries so harshly on its punchlines that its set-up feels unpleasantly forced.

‘The Comedian’ crams enough lousy stand-up to leave its audience sitting down.

the comedian
Photo courtesy of Steven Zang.

Everyone knows the story of the washed up has-been. Better yet, it’s become less of an archetype and more of a joke within itself. Let’s just think of The Comedian as “the joke that went too far.”

Director Taylor Hackford (Ray, An Officer and a Gentleman) brought audiences a dramedy that falls quicker than its own tragic hero. It tried to be compelling in its humor, but forgot to compel its audience with a stronger plotline. Even then, The Comedian (sadly enough) confused profanity for punchlines. And all that’s left is a notable director, a hell of a cast and an absurd amount of lost potential.

Early on, we meet Jackie Burke (Robert DeNiro). Despite his best efforts in New York’s standup circuit, Jackie is stuck with the label of his celebrated sitcom character.  However, when a heckler brings him to his imminent boiling point, Jackie is sent to do community service in a local soup kitchen. There, he meets Harmony (Leslie Mann), a woman with her own set of frustrations. As they go about helping each other with their own family struggles, Jackie learns of what it takes to step out of his own shadow.

The Comedian isn’t completely hopeless. DeNiro and Mann make for an unusually dynamic duo, playing to each other’s strengths in a way that salvages these characters. Furthermore, the film boasts an all-star lineup, with everyone from Danny DeVito and Harvey Keitel to Edie Falco and even a cameo from Billy Crystal.

Nonetheless, this comedy is a dear in the headlights. It’s haphazard, to say the least. The audience gets tired of waiting for momentum, expecting what inevitably is the expected. It isn’t that Jackie’s story is necessarily dull, but it’s given that unfortunate spotlight. One would only pitch this as a test of patience, teasing the audience with what never ends up being an emotional connection.

“If it wasn’t for the actors, I wouldn’t have liked it as much,” said Julia Dicristina, a Garfield native and long-time DeNiro fan. “The storyline to The Comedian was more serious than I had imagined. I went there thinking that I was going to laugh, but left feeling surprisingly disappointed.”

The Comedian begs the thrill of risky business, but leaves itself in the comfort of a safe zone. Even A-List actors cannot spare this comedy-drama from its noticeable mask of authenticity. Hackford works too hard on the punchline, leaving us without much of a set-up. In the end, all that he’s left with are crickets.

The Comedian is now playing in movie theaters worldwide. Some more local venues include AMC Clifton Commons, AMC Garden State 16 and AMC Loews Wayne 14. For a list of even more theaters and show-times, visit fandango.com today.

You must be logged in to post a comment Login