The sun has set on Charlie Day’s “Fool’s Paradise” before it’s even risen.
The cringe comedy that serves as both a farcical ode to Old Hollywood and a Charlie Chaplin-esque platform for writer-director-star Day is…not good. Pair the off-beat script with a slew of celebrity cameos and the film feels more like a “Threat Level Midnight” inside joke amongst Day’s A-lister pals. It’s an Adam Sandler sensibility of filmmaking without the wide-appeal marketability. At best, “Fool’s Paradise” could have been a hilarious “The Other Two” episode about the hollow insanity of Hollywood and the sleight-of-hand trick behind the magic of movies. Sadly, “Fool’s Paradise” instead keeps viewers trapped in the nine circles of hell.
Day pulls double (quadruple?) duty as a psychiatric patient who has lost the ability to speak due to severe trauma, and his misbehaving Method actor doppleganger, Thomas Bingsley. The film opens on a desperate publicist (Ken Jeong) who is looking to find the next big actor and make a “a real somebody from a nobody.” That “nobody” turns out to be a mental health patient diagnosed with a “mind of a five-year-old or a Labrador retriever” as part of a “medically undefinable” case. Of course, the unnamed man is forced out of a hospital due to a lack of mental healthcare from the state.
Is it funny, or problematic? Day channels both Chaplin and Steve Martin’s Ruprecht sequence in “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” on mute. He’s picked up on the side of the road by a mega-producer (Ray Liotta) who gives him a ride to the set of “Billy the Kid” in which Thomas Bingsley (also Day) has holed himself up in his trailer to down booze and sling Western slang to stay “in character.” The mental patient, now known by Latte Pronto for Liotta having aggressively demanded a latte from a P.A., steps in as a body double, and later a lead star, after Thomas accidentally kills himself practicing a hanging scene for the movie. It’s essentially the Eddie Murphy plotline of “Bowfinger,” complete with Latte’s co-star, played by Kate Beckinsale, seducing him as part of his induction into the incestuous and predatory nature of Hollywood. Hey, didn’t Heather Graham already do that in the 1999 send-up of the industry that actually is a comedy classic?
Adrien Brody, Edie Falco, and Jason Sudeikis also star as industry insiders, with Common, Jason Bateman, John Malkovich, and Jillian Bell appearing in cameo roles. It’s clear that Day’s real-life friends are having a ball during production, but it’d be nice if audiences were also in on the joke.
Yet it’s late icon Liotta, in one of his final performances, that is the small highlight of the film. Liotta screaming “Fuck off!” into a cellphone and arguably being the only sane character makes him the ideal (and slightly unhinged) straight man to whatever the hell Day is doing onscreen. The only saving grace of “Fool’s Paradise” is watching Liotta do what he did best.
Sadly, Liotta isn’t the main star. Day, an “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” scene-stealer, traps himself in an unfunny slapstick comedy with references to Orson Welles and Angelina Jolie. Sure, Latte Pronto can climb the ladder of Hollywood without saying a word. The only problem is the would-be inside jokes of “Fool’s Paradise” fall on deaf ears.
A Roadside Attractions release, “Fool’s Paradise” is now playing in theaters.