Road Hard (***): Charisma is not my middle name

roadhard

Road Hard – 2015

Written and Directed by Adam Carolla and Kevin Hench
Starring Adam Carolla, Diane Farr, Larry Miller, Jay Mohr, David Alan Grier, Cynthy Wu, Illeana Douglas, David Koechner

I appreciate almost everything Adam Carolla represents, and most of the things for which he strives. His podcast drifts in and out of my life like an old friend that one feels comfortable with for a time, until the stories get too familiar. Then after a few months apart, the comfort is back. His work with Dr. Drew is classic. His books are good comic fodder. His building / reality shows are entertaining. His work with Jimmy Kimmel created a late night cottage industry for Kimmel and kept doors open for Carolla. What’s most important, neither he or Kimmel have ever forgotten their friends.

Road Hard is the second in Carolla’s ceaseless effort to expand in movie entertainment. The gist of the film covers a semi-autobiographical tour through Carolla’s post-Man Show career as a stand up musician. His character Bruce Madsen is divorced, lazy and desperately clinging onto the scraps of what he did not realize was going to be his main course at the time. He lives in the garage-turned guesthouse of the mansion his ex-wife now owns with their adopted daughter, along with the ex’s boyfriend and daughter. If that situation seems less than ideal, his work on the road is worse. He implores his manager, “Babydoll” to get him more work on television. Television just isn’t interested. Even when he tries his old (Kimmel-based) friend Jack Taylor (Mohr), he gets a job as a warm-up comic for the nightly show that lasts…not so long.

Along the bumpy road, Bruce meets Sarah (Farr) who gives him a different take on his self-monologue. Pointing out some of his foibles, she grows on him. She doesn’t make it clear that he is growing on her. After more time and disappointment goes by, they finally hook up and he takes a step off the road towards a totally different and more appealing life. This is not an easy choice to make, but it’s not too surprising what happens in the end.

Carolla the actor is a tough sell. His range depends on how well one digests his self-proclaimed “nasally drone” and his penchant for dried out humor. His one-liners require everyone to wait for him to deliver them. When he shares the screen with a fellow comic / friends, the process becomes a series of setting up and waiting for each other’s delivery. This mutual admiration society may secure the bond of the friendships represented, but it doesn’t feel like a story. It feels more like name dropping when one sees Mandel, Dana Gould, Larry Miller and DAG. They get screen credit, and he gets to have them in his movie at a friend rate. More genuine are the moments with actors like Farr, Wu and even Mohr. They have to work extra hard to make it feel right, but the effort puts does help Carolla come closer to acting.

The story Carolla and Hench want to tell feels weird when one takes into account what they know of the lead actor’s real life. By selecting parts of the story as autobiographical and ignoring other aspects of Carolla’s real life and character, it feels like an estimation on what they think a movie goer would buy, rather something of genuine experience. Carolla is well-known for his hard work and preparation in all aspects of his life. He is also a dedicated road comic by choice.

Bruce is supposed to be lazy and tired of his trade. When combining his lack of true presence as an actor with the “choose your own version of the truth” plot, it takes the focus away from the tale being told and just makes one realize that this is just another attempt for Carolla to make movies.

There is nothing wrong with that. It could be better, though. This feels like art that is approached like a math problem. It’s a shame that Carolla’s ambition and talent haven’t come together in something that was even half as good as his first film, The Hammer. Maybe with different collaborators there can be a more salient effort. When Carolla gets it together, I will want to see that movie. I don’t need to see this one again.

(** out of *****)

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