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Film fails to explain bizarre Andy Kaufman
By LOUIS B. HOBSON - Calgary Sun
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Jim Carrey as Andy Kaufman

History recounts that the late comedian Andy Kaufman had a love-hate relationship with his audiences.

Milos Forman's biopic Man On The Moon suggests that Kaufman had a similar relationship with himself.

Kaufman's most famous character was the lovable mechanic named Latka Gravas that he played from 1978-83 on Taxi. Yet it was a role he abhorred. He was literally coerced into doing it for money.

Kaufman preferred to indulge his version of impromptu performance art instead of playing scripted characters. On stage, he sang along to records, challenged women to wrestling matches and caused chaos on live TV shows.

Kaufman was never happier than when he was alienating his audiences.

After a while, not even his closest friends were sure what was real and what was just another elaborate hoax.

People were convinced Kaufman, who died in 1984 at age 35, staged his own death just to see how people would react at his funeral.

Kaufman was not an easy person to know or like in the flesh and he's not any more accessible in Man On The Moon, opening in theatres today.

That's not to even suggest that Jim Carrey's performance isn't astonishing.

Carrey is Andy Kaufman.

He looks like him and has his eccentric mannerisms and vocal patterns down pat. There's something wonderfully dangerous and subversive about Carrey's impersonation that keeps the cinema audience on edge in much the same way Kaufman kept his live comedy club audiences guessing what outrageous stunt he'd pull next.

Carrey seems always on the verge of popping out of the mild-mannered Kaufman but he never does.

That's how well Carrey wears Kaufman's skin.

Unfortunately, Forman's film is no match for Carrey's performance because it never gets beneath Kaufman's skin.

The film never explains Kaufman's bizarre behaviour. It leaves the audience as bewildered as Kaufman's original fans and detractors.

Screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski were much more successful and insightful with their scripts for cross-dressing director Edward Wood in Ed Wood and porn king Larry Flynt in The People vs. Larry Flynt.

Danny DeVito, who was a friend and colleague of Kaufman's, gives a subdued performance as the comedian's long-suffering agent and manager, George Shapiro.

Courtney Love shows the love and compassion Lynne Margulies had for Kaufman and why she nursed him through his fatal bout with cancer.

These people and their motivations we understand.

Kaufman we don't.

There's no real indication why he would create the obnoxious persona of Tony Clifton, a vulgar Las Vegas lounge singer, or why he would terrify his own family and friends with the suggestion that he had broken his neck in what turned out to be a staged match with professional wrestler Jerry Lawler.

The one telling moment in Man On The Moon occurs when Kaufman travels to the Philippines to see a faith healer who claims he can pull out cancers.

The man who loved scams catches sight of the faith healer concealing a piece of animal entrails in his hand.

A look of elation replaces Carrey's look of pain as he realizes he is part of a cruel hoax.

The real Andy Kaufman shines through for a second and it's a blazing -- but all too brief -- revelation.

RELATED LINKS

  • More on Man On The Moon
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