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Man on the Moon

Filthy says:
"It's Not so
Fucking Bad!"

First, I apologize for not having a new movie to review this week. But, those fuckers in Hollywood decided not to give us anything new here in Denver. I guess they think we all got so much to do that we won't have time for a movie. Well, Hollywood assholes, some of us are lonely and pathetic and we need your movies to keep us from becoming shut-ins who spend all our time looking for free pornography on the Internet. As a result, I caught up on one of last week's releases.

If you like impersonators or live in a small town that doesn't have a good video store, "Man on the Moon" is your cup of tea. Jim Carrey is Jim Carrey as Andy Kaufman. It's an admirable impression, but it's always just Jim Carrey, not the real thing.

Andy Kaufman was a "performance artist" who became famous in the late 70s and early 80s for his oddball humor and weird onstage schtick. "Man on the Moon" follows his life from his weirdo childhood to his weirdo adulthood. It loosely sketches his path as a noncomformist from bedroom performer to the star of "Taxi," and then spends too much time on his eventual decline into the world of wrestling women, insulting southerners and getting lung cancer. I myself enjoy two of those three things.

Andy Kaufman sure was a fruitcake. I mean, there's a wide buttload of debate about whether he was a genius or a nut. He was probably loony first, pretty smart second. Genius? I doubt it, but he gets credit for coming up with shit nobody else does. His shit wasn't always funny right away, or ever, but a lot of it would make you bust a gut later. Like when you're friend shits his pants. You don't say anything then, but later, when you tell other people, you can't help but laugh. For example, sitting in a college auditorium hearing Kaufman recite "The Great Gatsby" in a pompous English accent would be hell to sit through, but that's funny to tell other people about. Same with him taking a whole room out for milk and cookies. Kaufman's Tony Clifton, the obnoxious lounge singer who enjoyed commenting on the odor of women's vaginas (something even I consider tacky), was probably a nightmare for anyone who wasn't in on the joke. And that was the joke. It sure is more creative than some fucking asshole comic in a blazer telling us how men and women are different, or how airline food sucks.

Kaufman is such a fascinating lunatic that it's his comedy, back from the grave, that makes "Man on the Moon" tolerable. If it weren't for the fact it repeats his weird-ass routines, the movie would fall flat on its flabby ass because it never goes any deeper. It never tries to explain why Andy Kaufman was funny, or more importantly, why he was a nutjob. It's too busy reproducing moments of his life already available on video, starring the real Andy Kaufman, not Jim Carrey. Think of this movie sort of like Gus Van Sant's remake of "Psycho." It's a pitch-perfect imitation that adds nothing of its own.

When I see movies about wackos, I want to know what made them fuck-ups. I know why I am because my guidance counselor told me: lack of respect for authority, laziness, poor work habits, foul mouth, strong body odor. But what about Kaufman? What went through his mind? How did he end up so weird and so successful? Why did he get into wrestling matches with women? "Man on the Moon" never says why. It just strings along vignettes that recreate Andy Kaufman's routines. And, if I all I wanted those, I'd go rent the video and not have to get it all filtered through Carrey.

The movie skates along a flat surface. It shows Kaufman as a kid performing to a wall. Then, he gets fired from a bar where he is performing children's songs. Next, he's knocking them dead at the Improv. Well, what the fuck happened in between? How does a guy who bombs in bars in upstate New York make it to the Improv? What did he have to do, how did he have to change? Next thing you know, Kaufman is bowling them over on Saturday Night Live. Jesus, I wish my rise to stardom could be that simple. Instead, I seem to be stuck at a level lower than Internet astrologists and higher than the high school kids who write animé fanzines.

In every scene, you get the distinct sensation that you are not watching Kaufman-you are watching Jim Carrey. Don't get me wrong, Jim Carrey does a wonderful impression of Andy Kaufman. It's a great lounge act, but never acting that helps us understand the man he's playing. His first mistake is copying Kaufman's voice. It's obviously not Carrey's voice and you are always aware that he is imitating, not embodying. His second mistake is to act like the man is purely made up of his tics and mannerisms. I wanted something more, something revealing.

Courtney Love's screen time as Kaufman's girlfriend is thankfully short. Her scratchy voice and skanky face always remind me that she is a scheming, climbing pain in the ass, not a talented actress. She is, however, the only women in Kaufman's life besides his mom. Other than that, this movie is all about men. Oh, except for the hot hookers at the brothel that Kaufman fucks (and you see their titties).

Paul Giamatti plays the thankless role of Kaufman's friend Bob Zmuda, and he's very good. He's lucky, Zmuda is not a public figure and so he doesn't have to do a perfect impression him. Instead he can interpret him. Danny Devito is George Shapiro, an poorly-written Hollywood talent manager. The movie makes him out to be some sort of put-upon saint who always stood up for Kaufman. But come on, the guy is a talent manager. You know he's sleazier and more money-grubbing than "Man on the Moon" makes him out to be.

Overall, the movie is undercooked. When Carrey is being Kaufman on stage it's funny as hell. But, you can't credit the moviemakers for that. Andy still gets the credit. When the movie is working from stuff outside of Kaufman's public life, it's boring and meandering, and just there to get us to the next scene of Kaufman onstage.

Three fingers for "Man on the Moon," but if you're really interested in Andy Kaufman, go rent his videos.

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