Begin with first principles.
Dito Montiel is America’s Uwe Boll, an inexplicable phenomenon who continues to work, always gets distribution for his movies, seems to hypnotize big names into making those movies, ensuring that distribution comes to pass.
And the work, from “A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints” (with Robert Downey Jr.) and “Fighting” (Channing Tatum) to “Boulevard” (Robin Williams, released the year of his death) to his latest, “The Clapper,” is awful.
Not hilariously incompetent or cultishly delusional. Just tone-deaf, dumb, lacking the awareness to be self-consciously so.
How bad? “The Clapper” isn’t hateful, which is a huge step up for Montiel. It’s merely puerile, insipid, clumsy with only the barest hints of believeability.
But I’ve said it before and it bears repeating. Montiel must be the most charming SOB in show business. He talked Ed Helms, Amanda Seyfried and Tracy Morgan into filming this never-quite-funny Hollywood comedy about Hollywood Blvd. “types.”
Helms, taking a step down from “Father Figures” (as if that was possible) and a miraculously recovered Morgan play professional audience members in La La Land. Got an infomercial that needs warm bodies in its studio audience? They’re “the best audience money can buy.” That’s a quote from Alan Thicke, playing himself in his final screen appearance, selling a dubious real-estate venture on late night cable.
Neither Chris (Morgan) nor Eddie Krumble (Helms) have much going on. But Eddie, at least, has mastered the art of making ends (barely) meet in this subset of Hollywood “extras.” He’s on good terms with the woman (Leah Remini) who books a lot of these audiences. All he has to do is don a goatee, a mustache, a Van Dyke or what have you, stand up in the audience, and say his line — “You mean to tell me that I can get this lot, no money down/this stain out with just one spray” etc. Mostly though, he and Chris and assorted other members of this community of misfits and grotesques just sit and fake enthusiasm for whatever product is being shilled. They clap on command.
He’s got an out-of-his-league crush on the Judy (Amanda Seyfried), who sits glassed inside a Melrose Ave. convenience store cubicle with only a cracking PA system to suggest her charms.
“At night, all the NORMAL people, they just disappear.”
Eddie’s got a mother (Brenda Vaccaro) who calls him from “back home,” having just seen him — again — on “YOUR TV show.”
He’s not really making it, but he’s making do. Until, that is, a late night talk show host (Russell Peters) and his staff spot him in assorted infomercials. A collection of clips make this mysterious “Clapper” look ridiculous. Jayme Stillerman (Peters) orders his audience to “find The Clapper” for him. And it all falls apart for Eddie.
Unemployable, harassed and harangued by tactless tourists and local yokels, he turns for comfort to the one woman in LA who doesn’t have a TV. That would be Judy. Soon, even she is taken away from him.
I love the milieu Montiel gives us here, even though he’s not the first to point a camera at the weirdos of Hollywood Blvd. Ricky Gervais’ “Extras” and earlier films have nibbled at this close-to-home culture of the camera cannon fodder classes of TV and film, and found more biting “But I’m in SHOW business!” commentary, more to laugh at and more empathy for these characters.
And even though he’s not the first to notice the cruel, mocking streak that runs through late night hosts, turning Eddie into “the biggest thing to hit late nite since ‘Stupid Pet Tricks'” is watchably plausible, and mean. Hell, they’re giving Letterman The Mark Twain Prize, despite his reputation for ridiculing foreign people, as a creep and a creeper.
It’s the execution, the writing (Montiel based this on his book, so he charmed his way into publishing, too.), the limp payoffs to set-ups and excruciatingly obvious resolutions to the vexing situations that could have had a real sting to them that grinds “The Clapper’s” gears. This should have been acrid and funny, and it’s neither.
Even the mean people are supposed to have a conscience. In late night TV? Really?
Peters makes a hits-his-marks but zero-charisma chat show host. But does anybody believe Ed Helms and Amanda Seyfried as a couple? A more promising direction might have been giving Eddie and the booker (Remini) some sort of she-has-the-power romantic connection disrupted by Eddie’s sudden “Star is Reluctantly Born” fame.
Every Montiel movie prompts this practice, “If only he’d tried this” or “that.” How he keeps convincing good actors to make movies with him is Hollywood’s greatest unsolved mystery.
His actors see possibilities in the material he convinces them do to. If only they’d watched his earlier movies before signing on the dotted line. His siren’s call, and the lure of making an easy quickie in town on backlots and over-familiar LA locations, would fall on deaf ears if only they’d do that homework.
MPAA Rating: R for language and some sexual references
Cast: Ed Helms, Amanda Seyfried, Tracy Morgan, Russell Peters, Leah Remini, Roger Guenveur Smith
Credits: Written and directed by Dito Montiel. An eOne release.
Running time: 1:30