Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Mike Plazzer
Stars: Simon Mallory, C J Fortuna, Emily Taheny, Kate Kenkinson, Steve Harrison, Dave Lawson, Luke Christopoulos, Tony Martin.
The debut feature film from a film making collective known as the Comedy Cartel, The Heckler is set against the backdrop of the stand up comedy circuit. This is territory that has been explored in superior films like Punch Line, which starred Tom Hanks and Sally Field, and Mike Birbiglia’s semi-autobiographical Sleepwalk With Me, etc. Unfortunately this low budget Australian feature is something of a mess, and this laboured and unfunny effort will struggle to find an audience.
Steve Austin (Simon Mallory) is a rising star on the stand up circuit, and is starting to make a name for himself despite his often ineffectual and hapless manager (played by Steve Harrison). Steve desperately wants to have a shot at the upcoming Ultimate Funniest Comedian competition later in the year. But Simon has become self-absorbed and obsessed with success to the extent that his personal relationships have suffered. He is separated from his wife Emma (Emily Taheny) and his young son Luke (Luke Christopoulos), and living with the beautiful but ditzy and shallow Bree (Kate Jenkinson, best known for her appearances in tv shows like House Husbands, etc).
Simon also regularly teaches a course in stand up comedy, which is where he has an altercation with the aggressive, crass and unfunny wannabe comic Mike (real life comic C J Fortuna), whose delivery of punchlines strangles any humour from the material. The pair later come to blows in the toilets after Mike crudely heckles Simon during a stand up routine. As a result Mike is killed in an unfortunate accident. But somehow Mike’s ghost then manages to inhabit Steve’s body. A spectral Steve can only watch in dismay as Mike begins to torpedo his reputation and personal life in spactacular fashion.
The Heckler initally comes across as a low budget Down Under take on the dark King Of Comedy with its look at obsession and the lure of celebrity, but it slowly morphs into another variation of the body swap genre. There have been much better examples of this genre, with films like Freaky Friday, Like Father Like Son and even 17 Again. This is an occasionally laboured and often unfunny film that will struggle to resonate with audiences.
The Heckler is the debut feature film from former VCA graduate Ben Plazzer, who has made several short films, and writer Steve Mitchell. But the pair needed to road test the material first and weed out all the unfunny and cringe worthy stuff. They also needed to tighten up the script considerably with a couple of rewrites before they started to shoot the film. But admittedly the pair manage to work in a killer one liner that cleverly references a classic line from the Star Wars franchise, and provides the film with one of its few genuine laugh out loud moments.
Mallory brings a manic energy to his role as the frustrated Steve, while Fortuna brings the right mix of aggression and bluster to his role as the unlikeable and obnoxious Mike. Dave Lawson is also rather unpleasant and pompous as Alan, a ventriloquist and rival comedian. Jenkinson is a delight as the shallow Bree, while Taheny finds a vulnerability and hidden strength in her performance as Emma. And Plazzer has managed to convince a number of local comics, including Tony Martin, to contribute brief cameo appearances as themselves to add authenticity to the scenes set in the comedy clubs.
The film was launched with a premiere before an audience of friends and crew during the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, but much of the humour here misses the mark, and elicited more groans than laughs from the preview audience. The film was introduced by some comedians, the highlight of which was Elliot Goblet with his typically dry wit and one liners delivered in his usual deadpan fashion. He was funnier than anything in The Heckler.