THE PITCH: Steve Martin writes, directs AND stars! Eddie Murphy breaks out his patented "Playing multiple characters in the same movie" gag! It's the great taste of chocolate and peanut butter.. together for the first time!
THE PAYOFF: Bowfinger isn't a bad comedy. Its plot, which involves a team of down-on-their-luck filmmakers putting a Hollywood star in their movie without his knowledge, has some genuine laughs. The problem's in how mean-spirited a lot of it comes off. When an actor/director as successful and talented as Steve Martin writes a comedy about actors and directors with no success or talent, it feels like a fat guy showing off a photo album of all the buffets he's attended to a group of starving Ethiopians.
THE PROBLEM: When not laughing at people less successful than himself, Martin fills Bowfinger with obscure industry gags you'd have to be a Hollywood player to enjoy. I can't see too many audiences in Dubuque, Iowa pounding on their armrests and thinking, "It's so true! I hate it when Fedex doesn't arrive with my next batch of scripts to review!" or "You don't have to tell me what it's like to work with Scientologist actors!" Watching Bowfinger, you want to force Steve Martin to sit through a comedy about plumbers filled with chuckling references to spray foam insulation and flexible coated gas piping. "See? That's what it feels like!"
THE PITCH: Eddie Murphy writes, directs AND stars! Comedy legends Richard Pryor and Redd Foxx join Murphy to present three generations of groundbreaking black comedians in one movie!
THE PAYOFF: Assuming you enjoy the word "fuck", Harlem Nights delivers beyond your wildest expectations. Assuming you were expecting comedy giants like Richard Pryor, Redd Foxx and Eddie Murphy to have actual amusing things come out of their mouths, you might be disappointed. Nights feels like an excuse for Eddie and his friends to dick around on a set in 1930s period costumes, and it probably was, but even then you have to wonder: with that much talent in one room, wouldn't someone by accident have been funny once or twice while the camera was rolling?
THE PROBLEM: Harlem Nights was billed as a "comedy-drama", which is a lot like making a "romantic horror" movie or a "hardcore Christian porno," and sounds suspiciously like a term thought up by a Hollywood ad executive after watching the movie and realizing it was as hilarious as colon cancer. "Work with me on this. What if it wasn't funny... on purpose?"
THE PITCH: Bill Murray directs AND stars in a comedy about New York City!
THE PAYOFF: The premise of Quick Change is one of those ideas that sounds funny on paper ("What if a group of criminals pull off a flawless bank heist in New York City, but then can't actually get out of the city?" Wah wahhh!) but logically gets more and more contrived and idiotic the longer the movie drags on. The first time our heroes fall victim to New York's notorious traffic jams, crime and public transportation problems, it's sort of amusing, assuming you've lived in Manhattan. By the fifth time, Quick Change has officially run out of variations on "Say, New York traffic, huh?" and has to resort to increasingly stupid ways to keep our heroes trapped in the city. By the twentieth, they've all but had a group of Predators gang-raping them before they can hop on a bus.
THE PROBLEM: We don't care how confusing the map is-Mahattan's an island that's like three miles wide. If you can't figure out how to drive in a single direction for five fucking minutes until you see water, then take a left or a right until you find a bridge, you don't deserve the money you've stolen, Magellan.
THE PITCH: Academy Award nominated American actor, writer, comedian and director Albert Brooks stars in a documentary about comedy and foreign cultures!
THE PAYOFF: Like most of Albert Brooks' comedies, Looking For Comedy is an unbelievably interesting premise that stumbles to its knees through its execution. In a landscape as xenophobic as America post 9/11, the idea of a documentary examining what makes other cultures laugh should have been a slam dunk, delivering a feel-good "We're not so different after all" message with plenty of fish-out-of-water laughs along the way. Except it's not a documentary. It's a scripted comedy with a sitcom-ready premise.
Yeah. Didn't make any sense to us, either.
THE PROBLEM: What should have been a thought-provoking study as to whether comedy is a universal phenomenon or defined by its culture ends up being an embarrassing lesson in how profoundly not funny Albert Brooks is any more. In his many stand-up routines in front of a Muslim audience, it's true, nobody's laughing. The problem is, nobody was laughing in the American theater I watched this in either. A more accurate title for Finding Comedy in the Muslim World might have been Watch Albert Brooks Suck the Laughter Out of a Room for an Hour and a Half. Good God, just look at the picture of Brooks with the puppet up there. Doesn't that make you cringe just looking at it?