Zenovich's new film, "Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic," isn't one that she originated -- "The Polanski project was my idea, so they were passion projects. Someone came to me with the Richard Pryor idea," she told The Playlist -- and it lacks the sense of focus and personal engagement of the Polanski film. It's a routine portrait of a celebrity, and given that the celebrity in question is one as talented, influential and controversial as Pryor, that feels like a terrible waste. Pryor, whose groundbreaking, caustic, perceptive and personal stand-up came paired with plenty of demons and tendencies toward self-destruction, is too good and too rich a topic to be given such rote treatment, and Zenovich never seems able to get a real grasp on the comedian.
A better moment, in the dark annals of Pryor willingly setting things aflame, is the time when he participated in the 1977 Hollywood Bowl event "A Star Spangled Night for Rights," a benefit for a gay rights being headlined by Pryor, Bette Midler, Lily Tomlin and War. The celeb-filled evening was marked by Pryor coming onto the stage and telling the crowd "When the n------ was burning down Watts, you motherfuckers was doing you wanted to do on Hollywood Boulevard and didn't give a shit about it. And kiss my happy rich black ass." The film plays the audio of this event, including the crowd's boos, with some interviewees talking about the near-riot that followed and others, like collaborator Paul Mooney, saying "it was the truth, and the truth defends itself." That inability to censor himself or conform to fit his surrounding, along with his fears about losing his edge, crop up again and again in the film as it traces the course of Pryor's career, from the sweet Las Vegas gig he imploded in 1967 after realizing he just wasn't using his own voice to his showdown with NBC over the quickly canceled "The Richard Pryor Show."
"Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic" runs through all of these beats, through Pryor's many marriages and his deterioration due to and eventual death from multiple sclerosis. And for any fan of Pryor's, there's still plenty of interest to be found in the archival footage, though there are many other testimonials one longs for when watching the film unfold -- like Pam Grier, who was jilted by Pryor so abruptly when he married someone else that one talking head speaks of accidentally buying a cake that said "Congratulations Richard and Pam," or Eddie Murphy, who adored Pryor but who clashed with him over who would get top billing in "Harlem Nights," which Murphy wrote and directed. Watching the film, one starts to feel like there need to be two movies -- one about Pryor and everyone who worked with him, and the other about his legacy, which continues to grow in the years after his death. This film doesn't really satisfy on either account -- merely whets the appetite for more.
Criticwire grade: C+
HOW WILL IT PLAY? "Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic" heads to Showtime on Friday, May 31 as the second film in the network's new doc series Sho Focus (following R.J. Cutler’s "The World According To Dick Cheney"). There's enough to it to be of interest to casual Pryor fans, but it could use a lot more of the edge its subject so valued.