THE COMEDIAN — Review by Martha K. Baker

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In 2000, Robert De Niro proved he could be funny in “Meet the Parents.” Before that, he was a heavy, an ACT-OR in films like “Goodfellas” and “The Godfather.” In “The Comedian” he proves that he can be part comedian/part tragedian. The result, however, is more leaden than light. “The Comedian” kills, but not in a good way. Read on…

That is the way with comedians on the friars’ circuit, pre- and post-roast. They’re fouler than fair, using shock and shlock as much as ingenuity and amusement. Jackie Burke, né Burkewitz, became famous on a television sitcom called “Here’s Eddie.” He had a catch phrase of bleating his wife Adele’s name. When he performs at the Comedy Cellar in New York City, people laugh politely at his shtick, but they really want him to do Eddie. One couple wants him to do Eddie so they can record it for their blog, but what they record is Jackie’s bonking the blogger on the bean. What Jackie gets is 30 days in the slammer plus community service.

All of that takes place in the first 15 minutes, with superb editing by Mark Warner. After that, “The Comedian” slips on banana peels through a plot written by a committee including Jeff Ross and a plot including the homeless and the hapless. Yes, there are funny lines, and yes, there is sharp delivery, but these good things string between plot points like gum pulled from the palate. De Niro works hard, but he is outshone by Patti LuPone as Jackie’s hateful sister-in-law and Harvey Keitel as a suave old folks’ home owner. Lesley Mann tries very hard — it shows. The comedy cameos include oldies Brett Butler and Jimmie Walker and trustees like Billy Crystal. Cloris Leachman dies literally on a roast dais. Director Taylor Hackford, known for “Ray,” is out of his element, so “The Comedian” takes a prat fall until it sinks in the epilogue under its own weight.
This is Martha Baker with a KDHX film review of “The Comedian.”

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Martha K. Baker

I first taught film at Lakeland College in Wisconsin in 1969 and became a professional film reviewer in 1976 in St. Louis, Mo. Through the years, I have reviewed films for the St. Louis Business Journal, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Episcopal Life, and KWMU (NPR), among other outlets. I've reviewed at KDHX radio, my current outlet, for nearly 20 years.