My face lit up as the opening credits displayed the cast for Fool's Paradise
. Charlie Day (who also wrote and directed the film), Ken Jeong, the late Ray Liotta, Kate Beckinsale, Adrian Brody, Jason Sudeikis, Edie Falco, Jason Bateman, John Malkovich...I settled in my seat, and waited to have a good time. 97 minutes later, I was still waiting. My only guess is that Day must have handed out some huge favors to get them to appear in this wannabe Hollywood satire.
Looking up the story behind the film, I learned that the movie was shot five years ago, and has gone through numerous reshoots and edits over the years, as well as a title change at the request of filmmaker Guillermo del Toro. The title is the least of this film's problems, Mr. del Toro. Day casts himself as a silent Charlie Chaplin-esque man with a simple IQ who finds himself on the streets of Hollywood after being kicked out of a mental hospital, because the state can't afford the treatment he needs. He has a run-in with a frustrated producer (Liotta) who is dealing with a spoiled star (also Day) that won't come out of his trailer. The producer realizes that the simple man on the street looks like the star, and before the poor guy knows it, he's being thrown into the crazy world of the Hollywood Studio System, and given the name Latte Pronto.
Steve Martin mined similar material with his screenplay for the 1999 satire, Bowfinger
, with Eddie Murphy in a dual role as a big name star and a dorky doppelganger who gets thrust into the limelight when the star has a nervous breakdown. The difference between Martin's approach and Day's is that the earlier film was biting and savage, while Day is simply taking easy potshots at shallow starlets, and how the studio system can build you up and tear you down in an instant. Tell us something we don't know. We're supposed to be watching this simple, mute and total innocent react to the madness of the movie world all around him, and come to the conclusion that he is more "sane" than these big name people he's surrounded by and are worshiped by the film-going public. And while some humor is mined, it doesn't dig deep enough, and it doesn't hit hard enough.
The central relationship in Fool's Paradise
is between Day's character and Lenny (Ken Jeong), a struggling publicist who sees "Latte" as his ticket to the big time, and sticks with him even after everyone else turns against him. (Day gets the lead role in a big budget movie about a mosquito-themed superhero, it bombs, and instantly he becomes a Hollywood pariah.) Here the movie develops an overly sentimental tone as the two guys learn they're all they have in the world. Not only is Day channeling Chaplin with his silent comedic performance, but also mixing humor with pathos. Like the satirical material about the movie world, the movie doesn't dig deep enough into the characters to make the emotional material fly. And the rest of that starry cast? Most are relegated to walk ons or cameos, and overact to extremes.
Day can't seem to decide if he wants to be savage or sentimental with this movie, so he takes the middle ground, and winds up not succeeding at either approach. After learning the story behind the film, my guess is that the movie was the victim of much meddling behind the scenes, eventually removing all the teeth of what could have been a biting comedy.
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