Movie Review: Showbiz Devours Stand-up comics — literally — in “Too Late”

Showbiz is littered with “make your deal with the Devil” allegories, a lot of them with Harvey Weinstein as the punch line.

And that’s what the horror comedy “Too Late” toys around with, that “You came into this with open eyes” proviso attached to every horror tale about “what I had to do to get my start in show business.”

More a cute idea for a horror comedy than one that pays off with laughs, “Too Late” is about an “assistant” who works for a comedy “legend” who turns out to be a monster, and not in the Scott Rudin sense.

Vi, short for Violet (Alyssa Limperis, a bit player making the move to leading lady) works for Bob DeVore (Ron Lynch), a grizzled “entertainer” who hosts and books a night club variety series that’s both a star showcase and a place where up-and-comers hope to land their big break.

Violet does menial things like stock Bob’s backstage bar, hoping to make contacts through him that will take her places. She scribbles ideas into an omnipresent notebook, something the other comics there recognize as “You’re a comedian.”

But Bob is an ungenerous C-list jerk, never introducing her, always berating her after using her for everything he finds too unpleasant to deal with himself.

That’s why she also books her own stand-up showcase, never appearing on stage, just providing “a spot” to comics who want to work on their act, polish new material, or even “get discovered” at the coffee shop where “The Death of Comedy” takes place.

Violet’s somebody comics feel the need to kiss up to, even harass, to get on stage at “Too Late.” The women (Kimberly Clark, Mary Lynn Rajskub) are fine. But the guys aren’t above crossing lines, getting abusive or drunkenly angling towards sexual assault. That’s when she gives them their wish — that coveted “spot” on Bob’s show.

Bob even meets them in his well-appointed dressing room afterwards. That’s where he will kill and devour them.

Violet? She’s knows this. That’s how bad she wants a leg up in show business, she sets up (“deserved it”) comics for “dark of the moon” dining where they’re the main course.

“I could make things happen for you!” is Bob’s go-to promise. If only she keeps his secret, sticks with him and toes his line.

Her first qualms about what she does arrives in the person of charming comic Jimmy (Will Weldon). He’s funny, she clicks with him romantically. If only she can keep him away from Vampire Bob.

Directed by D.W. Thomas and scripted by Tom Becker, “Too Late” gets in some amusing stand-up bits about “birth control shoes” (Clark’s bit about women’s footwear that sends non-sexy signals) and the like. As whole though, the film is more light in tone than laugh-out-loud funny.

Bob’s monster make-up is worth a smirk. His lines? Not even that. Perusing his centuries of family photos is almost amusing. Wait, vampires can’t be photographed! Rules are rules!

But the film does a great job of immersing us in a tiny corner of the West Coast comedy subculture — seedy, self-contained, with sometimes arrogant, sometimes talented and always desperately needy stand-ups struggling to work their way up the “paying gig” ladder.

At this level, stand-up is “going on between trivia nights and music open mikes” in bars with disinterested listeners. Self-esteem is hard to come by in this world, especially for Violet, whose roomie (Jenny Zigrino) is constantly ordering her to “value yourself.”

Others, without prompting, ask the hard question. “Why are you booking but not performing?”

The answer is obvious in our leading lady’s presence. Limperis is lightly engaging, but not an outgoing, magnetic or charismatic performer. When a cross Bob barks “Maybe you’re funnier than I thought,” he’s reading a scripted line, not reacting to anything he or we have seen in “Too Late” that suggests that’s the case.

Limperis doesn’t have the presence or comic (or straight woman) chops to carry this.

The presence of Fred Armisen in a bit part, playing the long-suffering lighting director, suggests a “Portlandia” kind of deadpan was what the wits behind the camera were going for. Unfortunately, “Too Late” is more “dead” than “deadpan.”

MPA Rating: unrated, grossout horror violence, drug abuse, profanity

Cast: Alyssa Limperis, Ron Lynch, Will Weldon, Kimberly Clark, Brooks Weldon, Jack De Sena, Jenny Zigrino, Mary Lynn Rajskub and Fred Armisen

Credits: Directed by D.W. Thomas, script by Tom Becker. A Firemark release.

Running time: 1:19

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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