Tuesday, December 04, 2012

The Late Show (1977)

The Late Show
Directed by Robert Benton
Starring: Art Carney, Lily Tomlin, Bill Macy
Grade: B [72] 

A wonderfully ironic pastiche of old noir films, this tale of two Roberts (Altman produced it and Benton wrote and directed it) has the nuts and bolts of its private-eye detective yarn screwed tightly together, even if its mystery remains curiously detached from the rest. Benton’s quirky satirical vibe creates a forlorn environment for Tomlin’s idiosyncratic, attractively unrefined comedic tone to thrive, and the notion that Carney’s detective is over-the-hill – while flouted far too keenly – is effective at stripping down the perceived weaknesses of the noir hero (booze and women) and replacing them with insecurities about age and status. Its key downfall is that the linear tale of blackmail and murder lacks inherent drama or interest -- a secondary aim of the film for sure, but one that saps it of the juice it needs to become thoroughly enjoyable as more than a nostalgic genre exercise. Still eminently worthwhile, but ultimately underachieving.

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