Boomer entitlement rears its ugly head once again with this overwrought comedy starring three aging A-listers—Robert De Niro, Tommy Lee Jones, and Morgan Freeman—who seem predisposed to ruining whatever recent memories we have of them keeping up their end of the Hollywood star bargain. Though the premise is hardly promising, I was more intrigued by the pedigree behind the camera. The Comeback Trail is written and directed by George Gallo, who wrote the screenplay for one of De Niro’s only worthwhile ventures into comedy, Midnight Run. Suffice to say that Gallo’s cynicism has only sharpened over the years, but his ability to form and frame a joke seems a lot patchier these days. And the fact that the film is set in the 70s makes me wonder if it’s been sitting around in Gallo’s drawer since then.
De Niro plays sinking film producer Max Barber, who, along with his hapless nephew-assistant, Walter (Zach Braff), is in debt to the tune of several hundreds of thousands of dollars to local crime king Reggie Fontaine (Freeman), who’s pretty much at the end of his rope. De Niro, desperate to not only save his skin but also the only property he owns that means anything to him (another producer, played by Emile Hirsch, offers him top dollar for it), comes up with a scheme that Gallo probably thinks is worthy of Mel Brooks: a classic Western starring washed-up horse opera star Duke Montana (Jones), one of Reggie’s all-time heroes. Knowing that the movie couldn’t possibly make back what it would cost, Max takes out a huge insurance policy on Duke and plots his demise during the filming of the rather rugged action scenes, which Duke thinks he can still handle. You can predict what happens.
For the most part, everyone hits their marks and seems to be having a rip-roaring good time, especially De Niro, who may see Max as revenge against all the assholes in Hollywood he’s had to put up with over the years; but those kinds of vendettas tend to work both ways. And while there’s some pretty good down-and-dirty slapstick and the aforementioned cynicism is, at times, sharp enough to keep you awake, Gallo really doesn’t have anything worth going over and the movie limps to a conclusion that anyone could have written.
Now playing in Tokyo at Shinjuku Wald 9 (03-5369-4955), Shibuya Cine Quinto (03-3477-5905).
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