Henry Altmann (Robin Williams) is an angry man. When it’s not subwoofers getting his goat it’s car alarms, ATM service fees and fat people. When it’s not 99-cent stores it’s hamsters, ass-crack fashion and God. Henry’s goat gets got a lot.
Today is no different, but as one bad thing leads to the next they’re capped off by a visit to the doctor’s office where he discovers he has a brain aneurysm. Dr. Sharon Gill (Mila Kunis), flustered by his obvious rage at this latest slap in the face from the universe, accidentally on purpose tells him he only has ninety minutes to live. He leaves the office intent on making those minutes count by mending his relationship with his son, spending time with friends and fornicating with his wife, but circumstance and his ongoing anger issues keep getting in the way.
Phil Alden Robinson (Sneakers) returns to the director’s chair after a twelve year absence with a film that isn’t quite worth the wait. The Angriest Man in Brooklyn is essentially a tale of redemption and second chances, but in order for either of those narrative paths to be effective audiences have to give a damn about the characters on them. That never quite happens here.
Henry interrupts a meeting with his brother and law partner, Aaron (Peter Dinklage), to ask a hypothetical as to what a person should do in their remaining minutes on Earth. The resulting suggestions range from killing someone to getting a Thai massage with happy ending, but the advice Henry takes to heart is to spend time with family and make love to his wife. With one son dead and the other not taking his calls Henry heads home to hurriedly seduce his wife (Melissa Leo). He gets the second worst news of the day while there, and things only go further downhill from that point on.
Daniel Taplitz’s script turns Henry’s remaining minutes into a Murphy’s Law-type situation with one obstacle or annoyance after another impeding his attempts to mend fences and go peacefully into that good night, but its structure and pacing hurt what should be a steady build-up towards a payoff. He sees the errors of his ways by the film’s midpoint leaving no further growth beyond that point, and while the eventual father/son resolution manages to deliver the goods the film’s other big emotional scene is squelched by some unnecessary and hideous CGI/green-screen work.
Even beyond the narrative there are more direct issues with the character. His angry outbursts are almost non-stop and usually played for laughs that aren’t coming. The poet Horace said “anger is a short madness,” a description more fitting of Adam Sandler’s angry character in Punch Drunk Love, but here anger is nothing more than the protagonist’s singular character trait. Williams keeps the energy up, but too frequently his riffs sound like stand-up performance pieces instead of acting, and the only time we get to hear him speaking more sedately is during the fairly incessant narration.
Sharon shares narration duties as her story inexplicably takes up a healthy chunk of the film’s running time by tying itself to Henry’s tale, but her own drama is essentially weightless and made evident only through exposition (or again, narration). We don’t see or experience her dramas – we only see her being a pretty terrible doctor – and as a result it’s difficult to really care all that much about her or her issues.
While Williams berates his way through the film Kunis (who also executive produced the film) keeps things mostly grounded aside from a few more high-strung moments. She’s still struggling to find a film role that suits her particular performance skills best , something that only Forgetting Sarah Marshall has fully taken advantage of so far, but this is not it. Richard Kind, James Earl Jones and Louie C.K. show up in very brief supporting roles too, but even they can’t muster more than a smile from viewers. Fair warning though, C.K.’s scene may actually result in more of a disturbed grimace.
The Angriest Man in Brooklyn offers up an angry man, but the source of his rage isn’t sufficiently explored, the path to his recovery isn’t sufficiently tread and his end destination isn’t sufficiently satisfying. He sure is angry though.
The Upside: An affecting father/son scene
The Downside: More grating than funny; key emotional scene muted by poor green-screen work; unconvincing character arcs; dual narration ineffective; stuttering played for laughs
On the Side: The film is based on a 1997 Israeli movie called The 92 Minutes of Mr. Baum.