Bob Phoney

Bob Funk

on February 27, 2009 by Mark Keizer

A showcase for writer/director Craig Carlisle, Bob Funk is a broad, functional contrivance that has its jaunty moments, but doesn’t work as a whole. Carlisle, a theater director with a number of plays to his credit, gives us more by the end than he let on at the beginning. But his comedy about a rude and drunken futon salesman who hits rock bottom never feels emotionally legitimate, and the loutish main character can’t earn our sympathies or rooting interest. The movie never proves itself worthy of its solid cast but the players do rep the only shred of hope for financial recoupment.

“I’m a sick man”, says Bob Funk: Futon Salesman, Ladies Man, Drunk. But what Bob forgets is that sick people don’t know they’re sick and there’s a special place for those who proudly announce themselves crazy or eccentric. What they’re really saying is, “I wish I were sick (or crazy or eccentric), so my life would seem more interesting.” And so it goes when trying to create an unlikeable main character worth caring about. Bob’s biting insults may be hilarious, but audience identification is the difference between someone whose better qualities we’re hoping to discover and a garden-variety obnoxious jerk. Carlisle shuts the door on Funk immediately with a first act volley of swearing, insulting, vomiting and, most plot-crucial, sexually harassing Ms. Thorne (call off Missing Persons, we’ve located Rachael Leigh Cook), the new girl at his mother’s futon emporium. There’s vague, acidic talk of Bob's cheating ex-wife being the banana peel that sent him down the slippery slope, but really we’re supposed to delight in the freedom Bob gets from being so gutter-bound that he doesn’t care what he says anymore.

But Bob’s mother (Grace Zabriskie) does care. After she demands he apologize to Ms. Thorne, Bob goes supernova and is immediately fired. The pleading of Bob’s brother Ron (Eddie Jemison, from Soderbergh’s Ocean ’s series) gets Bob rehired as the company janitor, one of those “funny in the room” ideas that renders everything less believable and less identifiable. Wearing the demeaning, service sector uniform of jumpsuit avec nametag, Bob begins to appreciate the joys of caretaking and surprising Ms. Thorne with muffins and flowers. It’s too manufactured to feel genuinely sweet, although it makes you wonder what America’s custodial crews are learning about us by sniffing around our desks all night.

Another immediate issue about Bob is the actor playing him. Michael Leydon Campbell, lean and slightly predatory, is a find. One can picture him with a robust career on sitcoms (it’s a compliment, I swear, sitcoms pay well). But the gleam in his eye bespeaks of someone who revels in the arrows he slings. And when the movies take its redemptive turn, it’s too heavy a burden, and Campbell does smarmy too well to turn around and cry over long-ago daddy issues. The rest of the cast fails to stand out with what little they’re given. Stephen Root, a veritable cult movie guarantee, plays Bob’s aspiring actor co-worker and Oscar nominee Amy Ryan ( Gone Baby Gone ) has a poorly drawn role as a bar patron.

Therapists say that some men don’t come into their own until their mother dies. Bob’s mother does not die, but Bob’s redemption will involve escaping from his mother’s influence. In fact, between the ex-wife who cheated on him and the mother who fired him, Bob may be helping Carlisle work out some serious family issues. Indeed, Bob even sees a therapist as a prerequisite for being rehired. Not much comes of this (oh, look, a Rorschach joke!), it’s just a hook for more shtick. And ultimately, shtick is the reason Bob Funk disappoints. Its high pitch and low humor don’t feel rooted in reality. As director, Carlisle shows little style, unless one considers unnecessary chapter titles a form of style. Stories that play to the back row work in the theater and this might have done better on stage. After all, the movie is based on Carlisle’s play Bob Funk in Therapy, featuring Campbell in the title role. On film, though, where every small change in emotion, motivation and behavior needs to be modulated for intended effect, Bob Funk is arch and phony.

Distributor: Cinema Epoch
Cast: Michael Leydon Campbell, Rachael Leigh Cook, Stephen Root, Grace Zabriskie and Amy Ryan
Director/Screenwriter: Craig Carlisle
Producers: Keith Kjarval, Tim Montijo and Ben Ruffman
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Rating: R for language and sexual content.
Running time: 96 min.
Release date: February 27 LA

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