‘Road Hard’ Review: Comedy OK

'Road Hard'

Movie Rating:

3

‘Man Show’ motormouth Adam Carolla made a shockingly sincere movie debut with ‘The Hammer’ a few years ago, which sadly ended up underseen. It seemed unlikely that he’d ever make another movie until Kickstarter paved the way for ‘Road Hard’, a self-deprecating and slightly autobiographical comedy about a comic struggling on the road.

Like ‘The Hammer’, Carolla casts himself in another loser comedy with a third act dip into sentimentality. It somehow kind of works simply because the professional podcaster never gets too ambitious. He just goes for some laughs with a little heart and never pretends that anything he’s doing will change the world. It’s a kindhearted little wisp of a comedy packed with just the right amount of boner jokes to make his fans happy they paid for the production.

Carolla essentially stars as less successful and more downbeat version of himself. He once had a popular comedy series called ‘The Bro Show’ that his co-host turned into a successful talk show career, while Carolla made one moderately successful movie called ‘Hey Dude, Where’s My Beer?’, hosted a cancelled radio show, wrote a book, and appeared on a Reality show called ‘Celebrity Barn-Raising’. Now he’s back on the road as a stand-up and increasingly bored by the routine.

His personal life isn’t much better, reduced to living in an altered garage while his ex-wife (Illeana Douglas) raises their adopted daughter (Cynthy Wu) in his old house with a dingbat jewelry salesman (David Koechner). In between suffering comedic indignities on the road, Carolla also pals around with some comedian buddies like David Alan Greer and begs his agent (Larry Miller, wearing a series of absurd wigs while surrounded by topless women) for work. Eventually, some redemption arrives when Carolla meets a beautiful woman on the road (Diane Farr) who loves woodworking almost as much as she loves an off-color joke. In other words, they were made for each other.

For the first hour or so, ‘Road Hard’ is actually quite a good little flick. The pathetic, lonely life of a touring stand-up is ripe for melancholic comic observations, yet somehow hadn’t been tapped for a film previously. Through a charmingly rambling episodic structure, Carolla scores some laughs out of bickering with hotel clerks, airplane seat partners, and drunks at comedy clubs. Without stretching beyond his limitations as an actor, he also taps into some genuine pathos without upsetting the comedy/drama balance.

The biggest pleasures come from watching Carolla give some screen time to his podcasting buddies. Jay Mohr works his smarmy charms as Carolla’s former partner with limitations to his empathy. David Alan Greer delivers his brand of rubber-mouth lunacy and poignant drama that will make you miss his presence on film. Ringers like David Koechner and Dana Gould steal a scene before disappearing, and Larry Miller gets huge laughs every time he’s on screen even though his cartoon character constantly threatens to topple the gentle naturalism of the rest of the film.

The trouble is that once Diane Farr is introduced as a love interest, the movie essentially devolves into a less interesting remake of ‘The Hammer’. It might have been amusing to see Carolla seduce a woman with wood shop talk the first time, but this time it feels a little lazy. Toss in an irritatingly coy subplot with a useless daughter character and the movie transforms into a bit of a mushy mess with a third act that almost undoes everything that Carolla and his co-writer/director Kevin Hench get right early on.

That’s not to say that the movie is a failure by any means. Carolla has a decent sense of how to construct a lovable loser comedy and knows exactly where to stop pushing his limits as an actor. He has a charming screen presence and can tell a story. It actually wouldn’t be unwelcome if Carolla were to start cranking out comedies like this regularly. The only catch is that he has to figure out a new third act for the next movie he makes, because the trick that he pulled off with ‘The Hammer’ can only work once.

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