Synopsis: A down-on-his-luck publicist discovers a recently released mental health patient who looks just like a misbehaving movie star. The publicist subs him into a film, creating a new star. But fame and fortune are not all they are cracked up to be.
Stars: Charlie Day, Ken Jeong, Kate Beckinsale, Adrien Brody, Ray Liotta, Jason Sudeikis, Edie Falco, John Malkovich, Common, Jillian Bell
Director: Charlie Day
Running Length: 97 minutes
TMMM Score: (6/10)
Review: Full disclosure: I’ve never seen one episode of the long-running series It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, but I know it’s where the world first took a shine to Charlie Day. Yes, I’ve seen him in a few movies over the past decade and even found him likable in 2022’s I Want You Back, but I chalked that up to Jenny Slate making everyone look a little better because of her presence. It’s that FX show, about to enter its 16th season, that I always hear is so representative of his appeal, though. Perhaps that’s why it’s taken me a while to come around to the squeaky-voiced actor because, until Fool’s Paradise, I’ve had a hard time wrapping my head around his appeal.
Before you Day-ums close this window, never to return to this blog; give me another chance, will you? Because I have had a (small) change of heart with the release of Day’s new film, a project he wrote, directed, and stars in. A sporadically funny satire of Hollywood that occasionally gets into a groove with such zip and zazz that you hope it will never take a wrong step, when Fool’s Paradise inevitably does trip, it’s a bruising fall. What keeps the entire project together is some expert physical comedy from Day. You can always look at the actor whenever you need to recenter if the film or its strange supporting cast begins to flop around and flail for attention.
Day plays The Fool, a mute mental patient dropped off in the middle of Los Angeles by a healthcare system that cannot afford to keep him housed any longer. (One of the first big jokes is Day’s doctor listing all his afflictions and his blunt treatment proposal) Easily suggestible, The Fool wanders around the city doing what anyone tells him to until he’s spotted by a producer (Ray Liotta, Muppets Most Wanted, in one of his final performances) in a desperate situation. The producer is working on a film about Billy the Kid, and his star (also played by Day) is refusing to work. Since The Fool looks like the star, perhaps he could stand in for him for the day?
The stand-in job requires The Fool to act in a scene with other film stars, Chad (Adrien Brody, Clean) and Christiana (Kate Beckinsale, Total Recall), and surprisingly, after a bit of adjustment, they finish the work and get the shot. While on set, The Fool meets hustling publicist Lenny (Ken Jeong, Crazy Rich Asians), an energy-drinking fast-talker that quickly renames his new client Latte Pronto and somehow finagles him into a movie deal, a house, a marriage, and other lifestyles of the rich and famous. Of course, no one bats an eye that Latte Pronto hasn’t spoken a word and doesn’t seem to be playing the Hollywood Game. As Latte’s star goes up, the fortunes of others shift, and it’s only a matter of time before there’s another changing of the guard, and Latte is the one grasping for help on his descent.
Make no mistake, Fool’s Paradise is an odd duck of a film, and it won’t be for everyone. Perhaps it’s because I like movies about Hollywood and making films (namely The Player & The Stunt Man which this reminded me of at times) that I responded positively to this one. Maybe it was also because I drew energy from Day appearing to channel Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Peter Sellars in Being There in creating The Fool. He’s not copying their work but clearly used those three men as templates when building this role and the film around it. Without dialogue, Day is free to be physical and use his expressions to convey what words can’t – and it works most of the time.
What doesn’t work, not even a little bit, is Jeong in another attempt at madcap-ery. As much effort as Jeong puts into the role, you’d think it would yield something more creatively constructed than the umpteenth version of the whiny wimpy dope he’s playing yet again. Anytime Jeong is present, sadly a lot, Fool’s Paradise feels like it’s sinking to a lower level. Brody is all over the map in movies and television these days, and that’s where he operates for much of this film too. Decked out in an Andy Gibb wig, he’s fully immersed in the role but the self-indulgent acting gets to be more of a distraction than creating forward momentum for The Fool’s journey through the Hollywood machine. Late appearances from Common (Suicide Squad) and, shudder, John Malkovich (Jennifer 8) come when Day’s firmer control from early on has lost its grip, and the movie has slipped entirely out of his hands. Best not to say much more about these two.
Already represented in theaters with The Super Mario Bros. Movie, you could drop the kids off at that and see this one while you wait. In one film, you hear Day but don’t see him, and the results are acceptable if unremarkable. In Fool’s Paradise, you see him, but he doesn’t speak, but you have an opportunity to watch an actor give you something you may not have expected in a decidedly hit-or-miss movie. It’s a toss-up, but I know which option I would choose. No games…choose Paradise.