Cert – Recommended for ages 15+, Run-time – 1 hour 44 minutes, Director – George Gallo
Two failing film producers (Robert De Niro, Zach Braff) stage a disastrous film production in order to use the insurance money to pay debts owed to a mob boss (Morgan Freeman).
Miracle Pictures’ apt slogan runs “if it’s good it’s a miracle”. After their most recent feature is a flop due to protests over its controversial nature they find themselves owing a lot of money, specifically to mob boss Reggie Fontaine (Morgan Freeman). With a strict time limit put in place producers Max (Robert De Niro) and Walter (Zach Braff) come up with a Producers style scheme where they can make more money from not making a film than by releasing a hit – all stemming from the realisation that if they kill off the insured star they can keep the, hopefully, excessive budget and insurance money from the unfortunate incident, pay off their debts and have money left over. Of course, they can’t kill off any major stars, and so in comes washed-up Western star Duke Montana (Tommy Lee Jones).
However, as expected, the various elaborate ways in which the pair try to kill their leading man all go disastrously wrong and production goes ahead as unplanned. There’s an almost cartoon style to the ideas behind most of the ideas that appear during the film. While this might not come across in the execution it certainly causes the mind to throw back to ideas seen in the likes of Tom And Jerry and Wile E. Coyote shorts. Even the narrative brings about thoughts of other works where other, very similar, ideas have been seen before. It pushes the generally repetitious nature of the film, something which is boosted even more by the fact that the majority of time is spent showing small chunks of De Niro and Braff’s hapless producers desperately trying to see their plan succeed.
It appears that the film, however, doesn’t realise how recognisable it is. How accustomed viewers have become to stories such as this – the narrative is set in 1973, by this point we’d have already seen a handful of films and shorts along these lines. Throughout scenes are lined with a forceful score, loudly pushing the fact that is meant to be a comedy, and we’re meant to be laughing. Even some of the performances appear to be saying this, De Niro appears to be giving a performance as overdone, and perhaps even dodgy, as his character’s hair and distracting moustache (and not the good kind). Unfortunately, such elements add up to create something that feels almost too in-your-face to make anything properly amusing, the laughs are barred from coming through due to the obviousness in the delivery.
The use of studio backlot sets and the style of some scenes involving Jones’ former star avoiding death do have some slight style to them. Certainly not anything overly unique but it does prove that there is something watchable here within the repetitious nature of the piece. We may have seen this plenty of times before, and that does mean that a light feeling of tiredness sets in at some point and hangs over the remainder of the piece, but this certainly isn’t an overly bad film – it’s more simply weak. Where it mostly alters is in the forceful nature of a number of elements that either appear to not have enough face in the film as it is and the repetition that begins to make The Comeback Trail feel longer than it should be. If some of the more overblown elements were also taken out there could at least be a slightly more satisfying return to the intentional disaster/flop gone wrong style of comedy.
More weak than bad, The Comeback Trail falters because of its often overblown, repetitious style making gags and sequences too obvious to be properly enjoyable.