A once-great comic looks to make a comeback while juggling romance in this enjoyable but uneven comedy.
Shame on me for not noticing more of Adam Carolla’s work. I remember him from basic cable hits Loveline (with Dr. Drew Pinsky) and The Man Show (with Jimmy Kimmel), and I see him on TV every so often, but I never knew, until now, the breadth of his work as a multi-hyphenate comedic creative force. It’s far too much to list them all here, but his talents have been put to use on everythingm from writing for Jimmy Kimmel Live! to doing voice work in 2012’s Wreck-It Ralph. His latest effort, where he holds the titles of producer, co-director, co-writer, and star, is the comedy Road Hard.
In it, Carolla plays Bruce Madsen, a stand-up comedian who was once on top of the comic heap. With his partner Jack Taylor (Jay Mohr), he created and starred on the wildly successful TV program “The Bro Show,” and he was also the host of the popular reality show “Celebrity Barn Raising.” He is still routinely recognized in public for these efforts, even though both shows have long been off the air. With Hollywood offering nothing in the way of steady work, Bruce finds himself back on the standup circuit, hitting the road (hard) with a string of comedy club dates.
That life quickly gets to him, though. He wants to be back on top, but more importantly, he wants a stable gig so he can be there for his daughter more than when he was still married to her mother (Illeana Douglas).
Road Hard is a film about a guy trying to get back to the top, be a better family man, and find love (yes, there is also a love interest, played by the film’s MVP, the sparkling Diane Farr). But rather than tell one smooth story, Carolla and co-writer/co-director Kevin Hench present something closer to a patchwork anthology, where the comedian and the theme (get off the road) are the common threads of the tales. But those tales are jumbled together with no cohesiveness, and with varying degrees of quality.
Surprisingly, and in spite of Carolla’s comedic wheelhouse, the pure comic bits are the worst parts of the film. There are scenes where Bruce does standup, giving Carolla a chance to flex those muscles, and those moments are good. However, when the onstage standup leads to shenanigans in hotels, on airplanes, or in other settings, every scene falls flat. It’s as if Carolla wrote a list of things that actually happened to him on the road, and then constructed his story in such a way that some of these events could be portrayed on film. It’s done to the movie’s detriment.
Also lacking are Carolla’s scenes involving his ex-wife and the daughter of her new man. It’s tired ex-spouse material that borders on offensive when it comes to dealing with his ex-wife’s future step-teen.
Road Hard actually finds its greatest strength in its touching moments. These are shared mostly between Carolla and Farr. Their chemistry together is terrific, and the character he has written for her is his perfect foil. He uses humor to charm, while she uses it to defend. She gives as good as she gets from him, but it’s because she’s guarded and wary of a guy in his line of work. The other tender moments are shared between Carolla and Cynthy Wu, who plays his daughter. When he starts expressing regret about the times in her life he missed because of show business, there’s real emotion there that plays quite well, despite being borderline cliché (One wonders if the constant return to schtick speaks to Carolla’s lack of confidence in the dramatic realm).
Road Hard marks Adam Carolla’s second feature screenwriting effort. I’m not familiar with his first (2007’s The Hammer), but this one certainly shows promise that he is as good a dramatic storyteller as he is a joke-writer.