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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Robin Williams stars, unconvincingly, as The Angriest Man In Brooklyn

Illustration for article titled Robin Williams stars, unconvincingly, as iThe Angriest Man In Brooklyn/i

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. 

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