A great deal can change in twelve years. Societal shifts adjust the mindset we have when consuming all aspects of entertainment. Certain approaches that previously worked will grow tired and played out. With that in mind director Phil Alden Robinson had a challenge in front of him as he is directing his first film since Sum of All Fears in 2002.
Perhaps the twelve year gap was too much of a hurdle to leap, because The Angriest Man in Brooklyn is nowhere near the quality of what you would expect from the guy who gave us wonderful films like Field of Dreams and Sneakers. Nearly every part is miscast causing each actor to be constantly at odds with their roles. Tonally it is in a constant whirlwind never able to find a place to settle. It is too mundane to be outlandish, too sentimental to be dark, and too disingenuous to be poignant. By the end The Angriest Man in Brooklyn may cause more anger than it portrays.
That angry man is played by legendary comedian Robin Williams. By this time in his career Williams has proven himself as a dramatic actor, and if anything tends to be more effective in his dramatic roles than his comedic ones. Here he plays Henry Altman, a man who is always on the precipice of entering into rage induced fit. Something as simple as a fender bender with a New York City cab driver leads him into a racist filled rant of grand proportion. He wears his frustration with pride, and his running list of things he hates does nothing more to add fuel to his irritated fire.
From the early goings it is apparent this is not a part fit for Williams’s talents. There is no conviction to this persona. His anger has no bite. It is too bothersome to be comedic, but too superficial to be effecting. Never did he feel in control of what was taking place. This was a bad skit character gone wrong, a pale imitation of Larry David on a good day. Easily the worst thing Williams has done in quite a long time.
Even considering that fact he is far from the most disappointing aspect of the film. That right goes to Mila Kunis who plays Dr. Sharon Gill. Kunis’s portrayal of a doctor is as convincing as Denise Richards attempt to play a nuclear physicist in the James Bond franchise. There is nothing about her performance that rings true. She too is at the end of her rope. Her affair with her married boss has left her a broken person working a job she hates. Unfortunately for her things only get worse when she has the pleasure of having Henry Altman as a patient. Quickly their personalities clash. Unable to cope Sharon informs Altman he only has ninety minutes to live due to his brain aneurysm. Before she can inform him the diagnosis was a lie he leaves to try and reconcile his life. Setting her off to track down Altman before the damage cannot be undone.
It becomes this episodic adventure where Altman has random encounter after random encounter, all in hopes of meeting up with his disenfranchises son before his final bell tolls. Each episode is populated with some highly regarded talent like Peter Dinklage, Melisa Leo, Louie C.K., and Richard Kind. Some are more effective than others. The best being James Earl Jones as a stuttering video store clerk who cannot get out of his own way. Clearly this premise is over the top, a sitcom scenario gone array. Robinson never matches the extreme concept with appropriate level situations. He is performing knock knock jokes on a raw HBO comedy special. Never taking advantage of the wide open format he is given.
Altman is designed to the age odd sympathetic figure. Someone who had life get away from him due to unforeseen circumstances. The issue is there is no-in-between. Williams is either on angry level 11 or playing the part of kindhearted father of the year in occasional flashbacks. Nothing connects these two sides, or justifies the ludicrous behavior enough to make you truly care about him. By the end you are rooting for the aneurysm.
The Angriest Man in Brooklyn comes off as a generic version of Curb Your Enthusiasm—minus everything that makes that show entertaining. I can understand why this material would draw Director Phil Alden Robinson out of retirement. He just couldn’t get a proper hold of it to produce something worth watching. Robinson may have a good movie left in him, but this is not it.