Starring Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen. Directed by Judd Apatow. Rated R for language and crude sexual humor throughout, and some sexuality. 146 minutes.
Rule number one for a comedy: If you need a character to say “That’s funny” after a lot of your jokes, they’re probably not all that funny. That’s just one of many things wrong with FUNNY PEOPLE, a misbegotten mess that may rank as the worst film of 2009.
It opens with real video of young Adam Sandler in his 20s making crank phone calls. This self-indulgent material sets the tone. Sandler plays George Simmons, a successful comedy movie star who learns he has a fatal disease. With the clock running out on his life he returns to stand-up, and takes on Ira Wright (Seth Rogen) as his assistant. Ira is a struggling comic looking for a break and this seems like a golden opportunity.
Part of this nearly two-and-a-half hour (!) movie had the potential to be interesting, exploring the world of professional comics. We see the competition and the very unfunny lives they lead in their pursuit of a career of making people laugh. The first half of the film has some interesting moments even if it doesn’t quite work. We learn too much about Ira’s not-very-interesting roommates, one of whom (Jason Schwartzman) stars in a successful and painfully unfunny sitcom.
Unfortunately, writer/director Judd Apatow is much more interested in penis jokes. Without doing a formal count, one is tempted to say there is one every other minute, but that would mean there were approximately 70 such references in the film and that seems way too low. It doesn’t help that most of these are not in the slightest bit funny, so the humor is on the level of an eighth grader who has learned he can shock the grown-ups with the right words.
Then, incredibly, all this is jettisoned for an absolutely pathetic romantic melodrama where George reaches out to Laura (Leslie Mann), the love of his life that he foolishly let get away. Although married with children, she has never forgotten him, and is now moved by his plight. The second half of the film is about George and Ira going to visit Laura while her husband Clarke (Eric Bana) is away, with George hoping to reignite the relationship.
Part of the problem is that not a single one of these characters is in the least bit likeable. They’re all selfish twits, quick to hurt others if they see an advantage for themselves. Thus it’s hard to care what happens to any of them. Indeed, this reviewer was ready to smother George with a pillow about thirty minutes into the movie. The only thing preventing this from being the complete Adam Sandler movie from hell is the absence of Rob Schneider. Perhaps he was working on another “Deuce Bigelow” movie.
“Funny People” is not funny, offers few insights into the lives of comedians, and at such a gargantuan length, leaves you wondering which you would choose if you had to select between this and, say, root canal (which couldn’t possibly hurt as much).•••