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*** Stars
(US 1999)

Jim Carrey, Danny DeVito, Paul Giamatti, Courtney Love

Directed by Milos Forman

Writing credits: Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski

Universal Pictures * 118 minutes

When I saw Jim Carrey's inept Stanley Ipkis in 1994's THE MASK, I said to myself, "You know, there's a quite fine serious actor in there, screaming to get out." And despite his bravura performance as the late comedian/performance artist Andy Kaufman in Milos Forman's MAN ON THE MOON, that serious actor is still in there screaming.

mightymouse.jpg - 12838 BytesI never liked Andy Kaufman. Oh, the Mighty Mouse bit was funny the first time you saw it, and the Elvis/Foreign Man bit was amusing, and Latka was cute on TAXI (though I always preferred Christopher Lloyd's bizarre Reverend Jim). But overall, I never understood why anyone thought he was funny, or even clever.

I do now. Maybe it's that Kaufman was ahead of his time. Long before "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, when the WWF was just a beginning to evolve into its 1980's heyday as a bunch of affable clowns, wrestle.jpg - 17350 BytesKaufman was taking professional wrestling over into the realm of hostile aggression when he whipped up an audience of Southern redneck wrestling fans into a frenzy. Long before Jerry Springer's staged television weirdness, Kaufman was punching out people on talk shows. Looking back at Kaufman's career, it appears less that Kaufman was the mentally disturbed jerk he seemed at the time, and more that he was on to something.

clifton.jpg - 20015 BytesThe tragedy of Andy Kaufman is less that he died at age 35 of lung cancer after being a health nut who never smoked, but more that it appears (and the film makes clear) that there never really was an entity "Andy Kaufman." He really was just a series of alter-egos (such as the odious lounge lizard Tony Clifton) and events. For fifteen years, the question has lingered: Did Kaufman stage his own death? Was it just another performance? It would be perfectly in character for him to do so (unlike the late Jim Morrison, for example), and indeed, he did talk at one time about wanting to fake his death. Yet aside from hard-core Kaufman fans, no one really has cared. Perhaps now they will.

The film has very little plot to speak of; it is primarily a series of vignettes from Kaufman's career, with a very few from what passed for his actual life. It makes no pretenses of trying to fill in the blanks. The film is primarily a vehicle for Carrey's astounding talent for mimicry, and indeed, he does a better Kaufman than Kaufman did, making him, if anything, even edgier. Kaufman would have loved the beginning of the film, in which Carrey as Kaufman declares the film to be cut so short that it is now over.

andybob.jpg - 17301 BytesThe supporting performances are at least adequate. Paul Giamatti (son of the late baseball commissioner) who is making a career out of playing geeks, does a credible job as Kaufman sidekick and best bud Bob Zmuda. Danny DeVito, who gets better every year, is less Danny DeVito than ever as Kaufman's agent George Shapiro (who appears briefly as a club owner). The cast of TAXI, most of whom look not a day older (with the exception of Jeff Conaway), appear as themselves. Courtney Love, as Kaufman's girlfriend Lynne Margulies, actually fades into the woodwork in this film, although whether it is because she has very little to do or if Carrey is just that dominant a screen presence remains to be seen.

Yet MAN IN THE MOON is first and foremost Carrey's show. How anyone else could even have been considered for this role is a mystery, for it is the one Carrey was born to play. His rubbery face and body add a dimension to Kaufman's schticks that make them even funnier. However, when he is trying to portray Andy-the-person, trying to become a star, he tries just a bit too hard to be a Serious Actor, becoming a bit too reminiscent of Robin Williams at his recent smarmiest.

It's enough to make me hope that the MPAA does give Carrey an Oscar this year, just so that he can then get on with being the actor he so obviously wants to be.

MAN ON THE MOON official site


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Review text copyright © 1999 Cozzi fan Tutti. All rights reserved. Reproduction of text in whole or in part in any form or in any medium without express written permission of Cozzi fan Tutti is prohibited.

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