Over time, veteran actor Robert De Niro has starred in a slew of comedies. Most recently, he hammed it up with pretty boy Zac Efron in last year's embarrassingly horrible Bad Grandpa.
Now he gives it another go in writer-director Taylor Hackford's (An Officer and a Gentleman) latest effort, The Comedian. Another misfire for De Niro, the flimsy comedy-drama comes off as a bad Judd Apatow flick. The movie, which opens on Friday at Chagrin Cinemas, seldom generates any good laughs before it becomes incredibly serious in its somber second half.
In the opening scene, Jackie Burke (De Niro) and his manager Miller (Edie Falco) show up at some dingy comedy club where Miller has gotten Jackie a gig. A former sitcom star, Jackie takes whatever crappy jobs he can just to make a buck. When a couple of hecklers gets under his skin and begins videotaping his response, he lets them have it and gives the guy making the film a good smack to the nose.
The couple presses charges and after pissing off the judge and creating a scene in the courtroom, Jackie has to do some hard time. Thankfully, Hackford doesn't bore us with scenes of Jackie interacting with the other prisoners. Rather, Jackie quickly emerges from jail and immediately hits up his brother (Danny DeVito) for a few thousand bucks to hold him over until he gets back on his feet.
While doing the community service that's part of his sentence, Jackie meets Harmony (Leslie Mann), a hothead who has her own anger management issues. The two become friends and have a one-night stand. Again, credit goes to Hackford for not making us endure the tryst. Harmony moves to Florida after her father (Harvey Keitel) convinces her to come work at the retirement center he runs. She stops returning Jackie's texts and calls. Though he's been married several times in the past, he doesn't take it well.
So when Jackie winds up in Florida for a gig, he makes an unannounced appearance at her workplace and even puts on an R-rated impromptu show for the old folks there, pissing off Harmony's father, who isn't a fan, but helping his comedy career as one bit from the routine goes viral.
While Hackford tries to mix comedy and drama, the movie winds up feeling like two different films. In the one, an older comic's bad luck reflects the way in which comedy has become a young person's game. In one satirical scene, Jackie pitches a program to a trendy new channel run by hipster twentysomethings who don't know much about the entertainment business. In the other film, an old man desperate to find romance toward the end of his life tries to start a relationship with a younger woman.
Neither storyline works particularly well, and De Niro, who delivers his jokes with all the subtlety of Andrew Dice Clay, doesn't play the part particularly well. Cameos by Hannibal Buress, Jim Norton, Billy Crystal and Gilbert Gottfried give the film an air of authenticity but ultimately fail to redeem it.