Robert De Niro and Danny DeVito star in a scene from the movie "The Comedian." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. (CNS photo/Sony Pictures Classics)
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NEW YORK (CNS) -- If a movie's going to be titled "The Comedian" (Sony Classics), and the phrase isn't intended ironically, since the film is about a stand-up comic, the audience has a right to expect that some mirth, at least, awaits therein.
Well, more's the pity. With Robert De Niro as insult comic Jackie Burke, this is where funny has gone to die -- cringing the entire way.
Portrayals of sad, bitter comedians chasing fading laughter and applause have been around for decades, notably with Laurence Olivier in "The Entertainer" (1960), Billy Crystal in "Mr. Saturday Night" (1992) and Adam Sandler in "Funny People" (2009).
What makes "The Comedian" unique in this pantheon is that, whenever De Niro grabs a microphone and launches into one of Jackie's caustic, profane rants, whatever pleasant storytelling flow has existed up to that point suddenly ends -- in the manner of a car crash.
Jackie's at a precipice in both his life and career. His fame comes from a starring role in a catchphrase-laden 1980s sitcom, which threatens to pigeonhole him as a nostalgia act.
He has anger issues, too, and one night he attacks a heckler, who quickly puts the assault on YouTube. Viral ignominy finally gives Jackie's career some heat, but he's too suspicious and unbending to take advantage of it.