Perpetual and demonstrative anger, while showy in theory, can’t be an easy emotion for an actor to play; it requires energy, stamina, and maybe a hint of danger. Robin Williams, who possesses both the neuroses of a comedian and a capacity for tapping into the darker side of human nature, seems as good a candidate as any to convey a simmering rage. But as Henry Altmann, the title character of The Angriest Man In Brooklyn, Williams flounders. He yells at a cabbie who hits his car, he yells at a doctor who keeps him waiting, and he yells at his son (among others) in flashbacks. Every time, his explosive rants sound rehearsed and, despite their profanity, pretty toothless—a well-worn stand-up routine about all the stupid stuff he hates.
As broad as Williams goes in these scenes, it’s not really his fault. He’s acting out a screenplay, credited to Daniel Taplitz, that’s peppered with bad writerly flourishes. Henry begins several tirades with a mannered “what the hell I ask you, what the hell” and characters repeatedly say “apparently” as a pithy rejoinder. The movie also offers two tracks of voiceover that sound like a middling short story: Williams reads third-person narration about Henry, while Mila Kunis does the same for Sharon, the doctor on the receiving end of Henry’s bile. His badgering about test results causes her, in a moment of weakness, to inform him that he has 90 minutes to live. Upon hearing this news, Henry bolts, determined to live the final feature-length portion of his life well. After some frantic soul-searching, Sharon takes off after him.
Kunis gives the best performance in the film as a doctor run ragged by an excess of patients and a deficit of hours in the day; she’s one of the only actors who doesn’t sound weirdly stagy. (Melissa Leo, playing Henry’s wife, matches Williams’ bellowing histrionics at the merest provocation.) Williams is further sabotaged by a part that may have fit him too well. Underneath the bluster, Henry is a too-perfect synthesis of the worst parts of the Williams screen persona: a wisecracker with a maudlin backstory. Despite its ticking clock, the movie pauses for sepia-toned flashbacks that manage to look amateurish while offering no additional information or insight about its central character (or anyone else).
Small-scale indie movies with good casts fail to connect all the time; the real surprise here is the director, Phil Alden Robinson. Robinson used to specialize in the smarter, more idiosyncratic side of the Hollywood system, directing and co-writing Field Of Dreams and Sneakers and writing the screenplay for All Of Me. Since Sneakers, his big-screen work has slowed to about once a decade, and there are faint hints of his possible frustration during Angriest Man, as when a homeless woman mentions that she “used to be a studio executive.”
His new movie isn’t poorly constructed in the technical sense (save those flashbacks); the camera keeps a steady, watchful pace with the frantic characters. But the pervasive clunkiness of the writing—it’s the kind of movie that resorts to breathlessly recapping its crazy plot turns for attempted laughs—makes this a late-period Rob Reiner-level comedown. Despite the small scale and real Brooklyn locations, the movie feels like an extended pose. Genuine anger isn’t quite so calculated.