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Man on the Moon

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Man on the Moon

Starring: Jim Carrey, Danny Devito
Director: Milos Forman
Rated: R
RunTime: 118 Minutes
Release Date: December 1999
Genres: Comedy, Drama

*Also starring: Courtney Love, Peter Bonerz, Bobby Boriello, Randall Carver, Jeff Conaway, Paul Giamatti, Marilu Henner, Judd Hirsch, Carol Kane

Review by Walter Frith
½ star out of 4

I'm sure that there is something to behold within the personality and act of the late Andy Kaufman. But I just don't see it. Director Milos Forman's 1996 bio pick on the life of pornographer Larry Flynt is a seriously under rated and brilliant film that didn't get the credit it deserved. I never liked Larry Flynt or the things he did but his right to free speech was and is absolute and although I never liked his lifestyle, I still thought the film about him is a classic and it was my favourite film the year it came out. So my dislike for 'Man on the Moon' has nothing to do with the way I feel about Andy Kaufman. This is simply a one dimensional and totally non lethal motion picture that never finds a way to tell its story above the level of mediocrity, a quality a lot of people thought Andy Kaufman possessed.

The first thing that has to be noted is the casting of Jim Carrey. It came down to casting either him or Edward Norton. Carrey looks more like Kaufman that Norton but what's really disappointing about the movie is that instead of Jim Carrey playing Andy Kaufman, Carrey plays Andy Kaufman PLAYING JIM CARREY! And shame on the powers that be for selecting Carrey over a real actor simply for box office reasons.

Andy Kaufman (1949-1984) died at the age of 35 of lung cancer and the film opens in the late 1950's when he is just a boy and shows how he always had the desire and ambition to become a performer. The film then zips forward to the mid 70's when Kaufman is in his mid to late 20's and how he got his start in the profession of stand up comedy. This is how the film begins its downfall. It fails to avoid mirroring its own subject and can't find a way to be a grand piece of film making and can't elevate itself very far to give its structure depth and remains totally mediocre for two hours. There is also no room for real characterizations. Carrey as Kaufman is the only mildly interesting character in the entire movie. Danny DeVito plays his agent, George Shapiro and is neither colourful nor absorbing. Courtney Love, who was so good in 'The People vs. Larry Flynt' isn't introduced in the film until almost a full hour into it and never shows any strong characteristics in a very pivotal role.

Aspects of popular culture cannot be explained to people. You either see the art of you don't. It's like the Andy Warhol contribution of the Campbell's soup can as art. No one can explain it as you either see it or you don't. The only contagious part of 'Man on the Moon' is the pro wrestling reference. As a fan of pro wrestling myself, I thought the segments involving Andy Kaufman and Jerry Lawler were worth watching. Pro wrestling is like a male soap opera with circus like performers who make it big based on personality and microphone skills rather than pure wrestling talent. Again, when realizing this, you either see the concept or you don't.

Another aching part of 'Man on the Moon' is that it spends too much time showing Kaufman in his stand up performances and his antics on stage, including the creation of a character Kaufman created named Tony Clifton. Carrey brings aspects to the Andy Kaufman portrayal by using scenes from 'Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls' (the bongo playing) and 'The Cable Guy' in the way he showcases Clifton. There is a scene in 'The Cable Guy' where Carrey, dressed up with bad hair and a bushy moustache, beats up a guy in the men's room in comic fashion. Carrey looks like that and acts like that in his portrayal of Clifton. There is too much Jim Carrey on screen and not enough Andy Kaufman. All of Kaufman's involvements with the entertainment industry only scratch the surface, except for the pro wrestling stuff. There was a need in this film to place more emphasis on the personal side of Andy Kaufman's life with the woman he loved. More interaction with the cast of 'Taxi' was not shown and it should have been. Writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski have written what looks more like a television script and you won't see director Milos Forman's stamp of sub text on any part of this movie.

The movie also has serious problems with its continuity. A reference is made to Jimmy Carter as president of the United States and then it later shows Kaufman on the first broadcast of Saturday Night Live which 1975. Carter didn't take office as president until January 1977 so how could a reference be made to him as president in 1975. Also, a scene where Kaufman and his lady go to the movies shows a poster of 1980's 'Coal Miner's Daughter' and 1982's 'E.T. the Extra Terrestrial' side by side. The film is also technically flat. The climax of a Christmas palladium act near the end of the film looks more like a college production than a professionally put together movie.

As movie making, 'Man on the Moon' fails on almost every level and was a shocking disappointment from a two time Oscar winning director like Milos Forman and as for Oscar talk about Jim Carrey, this film looks like Robin Wiliams' first Oscar nomination for 'Good Morning Vietnam' in 1987. It's simply the comedian playing himself more and not enough of the character the script called for. What a let down!

Copyright 2000 Walter Frith

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