The Comeback Trail (M) - 103 minutes
A spoof on mercenary Hollywood producers, featuring three of the biggest and oldest actors in the business, The Comeback Trail delights.
Robert De Niro stars as Max Barber, whose lack of success in churning out D-grade dirges proceeds him.
We are in Hollywood in 1974.
Barber works in partnership with his nephew, Walter Creason (Zach Braff), although it is clear who calls the shots.
As The Comeback Trail starts, the pair’s latest film, Killer Nuns – a box office disaster – is the subject of a serious picket.
Financing to tune of $350,000 has come from gangster Reggie Fontaine (Morgan Freeman).
Fontaine – adept at referencing classic Hollywood movies in his threats of violence – wants back the money he invested in the picture, only Barber doesn’t have it.
With a dire fate awaiting Barber, Fontaine gives him 72 hours to stump up the cash.
Barber visits a younger, successful producer, James Moore (Emile Hirsch), who offers to pay big coin for a dynamite script that Barber has been holding onto for years, but Barber rebuts him.
Eventually he succumbs, only to change his mind again when he chances upon an insurance scam that could make his troubles disappear forever.
Again soliciting Fontaine, Barber casts a fallen Hollywood star, Duke Montana (Tommy Lee Jones) – who is way past his prime and looking to check out of this world – in a movie (any movie), the script for which has been collecting dust.
The idea is to literally kill off the lead and collect the insurance money.
Barber’s nephew, Creason is excited by the prospect of a new shoot – especially this one, as it’s a script he has always liked, although Barber hasn’t, but Creason doesn’t know about Barber’s nefarious plan.
And then, of course, everything goes pear-shaped.
Oh, so silly and far-fetched, The Comeback Trail is also tremendous fun.
The script by George Gallo (Bad Boys for Life) and Josh Posner – based upon a 1982 film of the same name by Harry Hurwitz – is delightful, contrived nonsense, while direction by Gallo allows the talent to shine.
The actors appear to be having a hell of a good time hamming it up.
Although there is no shortage of cornball antics, there are also belly laughs to be had.
De Niro leads from the front, channelling the comic sensibility that endeared him to audiences in Meet the Parents (2000).
Freeman puts on indignation as the tough-talking hood with appropriate menacing sidekicks.
The Comeback Trail is simply good old-fashioned entertainment – lightweight levity made all the better because of the talent involved.
It is the perfect tonic for these troubled times.
Also, please wait for the credits to roll as you get the chance to see a tongue-in-cheek trailer for Killer Nuns (refer back to my earlier mention at the head of this review).
Rated M, The Comeback Trail scores a 7½ out of 10.