For as morbid as it is, I had a really good time watching The Comeback Trail, a dark comedy about a scheming film producer banking on the “accidental” death of his leading star. Think Bowfinger or The Producers with more slapstick and cynicism.
Robert De Niro is almost unrecognizable as suspicious producer Max Barber, a contact everyone seems to know well….which is why Barber doesn’t have any close colleagues other than his producing partner and nephew Walter Creason (Zach Braff). Max has a harmless appeal, but he’s constantly having to escape the wrath of a financial flop or the mob (led by film buff Reggie Fontaine played by Morgan Freeman). Max is, once again, under the thumb of local gangsters who are looking to collect. Just when Max thinks he’s in the ultimate pinch, a lucrative opportunity comes in the form of an unrelated on-set incident – a famous Hollywood actor accidentally dies and the production earns a hefty paycheque from the actor’s insurance. Max believes he can recreate a similar accident. Hiding his motivation from Walter, Max rushes into production using a half-baked script, purposefully uncoordinated stunt work, and weathered star Duke Montana (played by Tommy Lee Jones).
The Comeback Trail is a borderline farce, which helps take some of the edge off its bizarre and potentially mean-spirited premise. De Niro, who received unfair flack for his goofy comedy in Dirty Grandpa, further proves his knack for ambitious humour by delivering very funny jokes through his hysterical character. The other actors in this loaded cast are good as well, but De Niro is the movie’s anchor; carrying the plot as well as setting up amusing exchanges with whomever he’s sharing the screen with.
I haven’t been keen on the recent output from The Comeback Trail’s director/co-writer George Gallo (Bigger, The Poison Rose), but he finds an efficient groove with this film. It could be because he’s working with a great and potentially overqualified cast, but Gallo’s direction allows the film to seamlessly alternate between crime plot and black comedy without overextending the material’s reach. Even when the story becomes sentimental, with the cast and crew falling more in love with the schlocky con job they don’t know they’re working on, The Comeback Trail doesn’t lose the audience’s focus. The only real misstep is a tacky ending that must’ve had “wrap everything up here” written in thick marker across the script. But otherwise, The Comeback Trail is a satisfying hoot.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie