In his one-man stage show, the late Charles Nelson Reilly would talk about his mother. It wasn’t exactly a loving tribute: This is a woman whose favorite word was “no,” who shouted racial slurs out their Bronx window, and who was supposedly so hated in the neighborhood that she carried around a baseball bat whenever she ran an errand. During one battle with her son, Mrs. Reilly shouted, “I should have thrown out the baby and kept the afterbirth!”
You can hear the crowd gasp after that line in The Life of Reilly, an 84-minute film that captures highlights of the comedian’s three-hour-plus monologue. And Reilly rebukes them: “Did you think it was all going to be game shows?” That gets a laugh; subsequent stories about how his mother’s dream-crushing stubbornness ultimately landed his father in an institution silence the theater. It’s not far into Frank Anderson and Barry Poltermann’s documentary before you realize that no, this surprisingly poignant performance won’t be burbling over with Match Game–ready froth.
At first, you probably won’t recognize Reilly—instead of a clown in a bad toupee, Rocket Man glasses, and sailor suit on stage, he’s a frail-looking, balding senior swimming in a button-down and khakis. There’s a reason, and it’s not sudden aging: It’s probably been forever since you’ve seen the guy. This show, Reilly’s final one before his death last May, was filmed at a North Hollywood theater in October 2004, and the directors realized the actor had fallen into obscurity, inserting footage at the start of the movie of a street poll asking people if they knew who Charles Nelson Reilly was. (The majority replied that the name sounded familiar, but few could definitively say.) Reilly himself was aware that his star had significantly dimmed, beginning his monologue by gently proclaiming he’s at the “twilight of an extraordinary life.” He uses the word “twilight,” he continues, based on run-ins with fans, such as the excitable lady in a supermarket who saw him and shrilled, “Oh! I thought you were dead.”
So the performer may not resemble the guy who shows up on GSN in the middle of the afternoon, but the voice—whether he’s doing the grocery-store lady or just ad-libbing an aside—hasn’t changed a whit. And that distinctive sound, borderline-hysterical and always used for laughs, makes some of the tales Reilly chooses to share even sadder. Co-written by actor Paul Linke, Reilly’s monologue is, as the title suggests, an autobiography, and it took a while until his life became bearable. After his artist father was institutionalized, having started to drink heavily after his wife forced him to turn down a job opportunity with a then-unknown Walt Disney, the Reillys were broke and moved to Connecticut to live with a relative who was a recent lobotomy patient. (“Eugene O’Neill would never even get near this family!” Reilly says.) His mother discouraged his desire to act. So did an NBC exec, who told him, “They don’t let queers on television,” cutting short a meeting that Reilly was certain would be his break.
The Life of Reilly isn’t all bad news, of course, but even when Reilly is talking about his fascination with film or his first steps toward success, it’s with a reverence only occasionally punctuated by a quip. This is a story about all wide-eyed dreamers as much as it is about him: When Reilly reads off the roster of his classmates in a New York acting class for the dirt-poor—Jack Lemmon, Frank Langella, Hal Holbrook—it’s a simple act that’s hugely inspiring. (It’s particularly so when he mentions that Holbrook, carrying a white wig in a paper bag, was doing Mark Twain even then.)
There are several components to his set—some living-room furniture, theater seats, a podium, and a prop table—but you get the feeling that the performance would have the same effect even if the stage were empty. (More distracting, however, is the directors’ insertion of random footage throughout the monologue—there are more grainy shots of trains, it seems, than clips from Reilly’s television career.) One-man shows are deceptively relaxed; a good performer makes you feel as if you’re just catching up with an old friend over drinks, unaware that there’s a script feeding the recollections. In this regard, Reilly’s an ace, appearing to simply make conversation while effortlessly re-creating characters from his past, sometimes preceding his descriptions with a “C’mere!” or “See her?” You do, and with all his affectations stripped away, you see the genuine Reilly, too.
Hitman Directed by Xavier Gens
Have you ever seen a video-game-based movie that was really good? Decent? Anything more than an utter embarrassment? OK, maybe a handful of pixels-to-pictures transitions—Resident Evil, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Silent Hill—can be considered a tolerable way to waste a couple of hours, though those were saved mostly by the star power of Milla Jovovich, Angelina Jolie, and Radha Mitchell, respectively.
In Hitman, we get Timothy Olyphant. Olyphant, who most recently played an often ludicrous villain in Live Free or Die Hard, scowls with similarly blank concentration here as Agent 47, a bald killer-for-hire with a bar code on his head. (That’s clearly the look to go for when you want to get away with murder.) The script, by Swordfish writer Skip Woods, doesn’t help the actor any: As the story goes, Agent 47 was not only trained as an assassin, he was cloned for the job. It’s somewhat understandable, therefore, that the guy’s meant to be more machine than life of the party. But even the Terminator killed with one-liners as well as with robot fists, and Olyphant’s resemblance to the Transporter, aka Jason Statham, will only remind audiences how far a more charismatic actor can get with a cue ball and a grimace.
Hitman’s plot is so murky it quickly gets boring. French director Xavier Gens appropriately stages a lot of shootouts, the most ridiculous of which entails a double-fisted Mexican standoff in a subway car. Agent 47’s assignments, which he receives from a sexy-voiced computer, take him all over the world, but the action primarily takes place in Russia and involves an allegedly botched assassination of an official and, yes, a setup. Interpol’s looking for him, as are a couple of 47’s hitman-school chums. (Also bald, also tattooed.) The only memorable part of all this mind-numbing running about is Nika (Olga Kurylenko), a good-looking hooker who had a relationship with the is-he-or-isn’t-he dead politician in question, though she’s most notable for being naked for no reason (when 47 tells her to get dressed, she asks, “What for?”) and for wildly unsympathetic laments such as, “You don’t want to fuck me, you don’t want to kill me. I’ve never felt so much indifference in my life!”
Olga’s right; 47 doesn’t even want the girl. What kind of action movie is this? A skippable one, ultimately, though even if it doesn’t reach the dubious heights of Tomb Raider, et al., it’s still not quite awful enough to keep company with Uwe Boll’s worst.