For Phil Alden Robinson to return to directing with a film like The Angriest Man In Brooklyn, after being at the helm of Hollywood gems like Field Of Dreams and the very first episode of Band Of Brothers, it should qualify him for the award for Worst Directorial Comeback. Here is a movie that an amateur filmmaker would be embarrassed to export out of the editing software, let alone allow thousands of people to watch.
The Angriest Man In Brooklyn, I read, is a remake of an Israeli film. I have not seen that film, and now, after having seen this one, I am at two minds about whether I should seek it out to compare. Both movies are about slightly-older-than-middle-aged men romping and stomping around town in fits of rage without any concern or care for the people around them. There is an early catastrophe in this movie where the man, Henry Altmann (Robin Williams), gets his Beemer slammed into by an Uzbekistani taxi driver, who quite conspicuously resembles Borat Sagdiyev. Henry storms out of his car and hurls racial abuse at the driver. Meanwhile, all other cars wait around patiently as if expecting the two men to turn around and perform vaudeville routines.
Henry has an appointment with his doctor, but his doctor is away with his family. So, his replacement, the young and impossibly attractive Dr. Sharon Gill (Mila Kunis), steps up to take his place and cover all his patients. Henry gets mad at Sharon because she looks nothing like his regular doctor — “Are you even old enough to practice?” — which causes her to panic, which then causes her to lie about a brain aneurism that’s close to Henry’s brain stem. She falsely tells him that he only has 90 minutes left to live. That’s right — just 90 minutes. People with heart attacks have lived longer.
Now Henry must do what all characters with a time bomb lifespan in the movies must do: He must find all his burnt bridges and repair them before he dies. And for a man as angry as Henry, his bridges are ubiquitous. It is a quest for redemption by a man who deserves none. This part of the story is like a reworking of Rob Reiner’s The Bucket List, except instead of charismatic veterans pacifying a horribly inaccurate tale of cancer, Robin Williams seems almost completely uninterested in the plague that has suddenly swooped in and threatened to destroy his life.
Here, in this dreadful movie, I fear, is where Williams loses his zest for life. I recall his early standup routines where he would frequently play five or six different people in one act and nonchalantly wipe clean the dripping sweat from his brow, always with that wide smile that enveloped the entire world. All that is gone here. He doesn’t smile in this movie. His eyes never light up. It’s as if he’s seen the script and blacked out, relying on the rest of his cast members to pick him up straight. Henry Altmann is a man who deserves so much emotion! He’s angry, for god’s sake! If he had a gun he’d kill people without thinking twice. He is a simple character that requires a complex performance, one that travels high up the slope and then quickly back down to the bottom. Williams is good at this sorta thing. And yet, looking at his sullen bearing, I worry that he wouldn’t hit a wall if he ran into it.
The screenplay, penned by Daniel Taplitz, also borrows from American Beauty — both Henry and Sharon narrate their own lives, in the third person, after the fact. What I want to know is “why?’. What is the point of this narration? And why from the two of them? I, as a viewer, couldn’t care less about Sharon, who should, by any law in any country, be stripped of her medical license. She loses her cat to gravity. Yes, that is sad. A cousin of mine lost her cat the same way recently. It is horrifying. But to say that that’s the reason to pop pills, screw around at work, give patients false prognoses and then abandon your job to go looking for them, you’re begging to be fired.
This is a poor, poor movie. It is just so lost. As a comedy, it is a failure. As a moving tale of one man’s search for forgiveness and redemption, it is hokey at best. What has Robinson done to himself that he feels justified releasing this? Has he lost his ability to pull good performances from his actors? He puts the story together hoping that his cast will carry him through, but they are not the only ones to blame. There are poor stylistic choices too; there are a lot of sped-up shots, a lot of jump cuts, and a lot of crummy CGI work to make Williams and Melissa Leo appear younger.
Where is it all going? I’ll tell you where. It is going to the Brooklyn Bridge to jump off. And I hope it lands wrongly.
Best Moment | James Earl Jones’ c-c-c-c-c-cameo.
Worst Moment | Henry’s son Tommy, played by Hamish Linklater, who is poorly cast. And for a character who is meant to be in love with dancing, his dancing skills are shameful. Perhaps Henry was on to something.