THE COMEBACK TRAIL

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: George Gallo

Stars: Robert De Niro, Tommy Lee Jones, Morgan Freeman, Zach Braff, Emile Hirsch, Patrick Muldoon,.

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Hollywood loves to make films celebrating the movie industry itself and depicting the movie making process. While many are celebratory in nature there has been the occasional satire like Robert Altman’s The Player, which delivered a backhanded salute to the industry. The Comeback Trail is something of a parody of low budget filmmaking and satire of Hollywood filmmaking, in particular the mercenary nature of producers. It seems to borrow a key idea from Mel Brooks’ classic Oscar winning comedy The Producers in which a couple of venal Broadway producers plan to scam their financiers by staging the worst musical they can, hoping for a big flop, only to produce a surprise hit.

The film is set in Hollywood in 1974. Max Barber (played by Robert De Niro) is a failed film producer whose previous film about a group of scantily clad machine gun toting nuns has proven to be a box office dud. Consequently, Max owes money to colourful gangster Reggie (Morgan Freeman), who had invested in the film. Concerned that he won’t see a cent, Reggie threatens Max with all manner of interesting punishments inspired by the classic movies he loves. Reggie gives Max 72 hours to come up with the $350,000.

Although in trouble and desperate for money, Max resists selling his beloved script which he has been nurturing for years and which he believes is Oscar worthy. A rival producer named Jimmy Moore (Emile Hirsch) makes a lucrative offer for the script. During a set visit to discuss the offer Max sees a charismatic Tom Cruise like star killed during a tragic accident. After learning that Moore has collected a lucrative insurance pay out, Max is inspired. Digging out a long forgotten and poorly written script that has languished in his desk drawer he sets out with a brilliant scam.

He lures suicidal forgotten western star Duke Montana (Tommy Lee Jones) out of retirement and casts him as the hero of the film. But Max plans to kill him during some dangerous stunts in order to collect the insurance payout and get himself out of debt. His producing partner and nephew Walter Creason (Zach Braff, from Scrubs, etc) is unaware of Max’s plan and appears enthusiastic about what the crew is capturing. But Duke proves to be indestructible, which adds to Max’s growing frustration. And somehow the movie proves to be a hit in spite of Max’s desperate efforts.

The Comeback Trail is a remake of a little known 1982 film from Harry Hurwitz, a filmmaker who made a number of low budget exploitation movies in the 70s and 80s. The original film featured a largely unknown cast, although it starred Buster Crabbe (a former Tarzan and Flash Gordon) in his final film role, as Duke Montana. This remake has been written by George Gallo (who wrote the original script for Bad Boys and Midnight Run, etc) and first-time feature writer Josh Posner. Gallo also directs and injects plenty of physical comedy into the material.

Gallo has assembled a great cast here featuring three Oscar winners, who seem to be having fun. De Niro has not been this switched on or energised in a comedy since Meet The Parents and demonstrates some great comic timing. Jones brings his usual gruff, laconic and grizzled persona to his role as Duke. And Freeman in nicely laid back as the menacing Reggie.

And stick around for the end credits as we get to see the faux trailer for the dire Killer Nuns, an instant cult classic if ever there was one.

★★★

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