Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project offers a conventional nonfiction look at the insult-spewing comedy legend, composed of myriad film, TV, and live performance clips, as well as a cavalcade of yesteryear and present-day celebrities who gush about the iconically combative star. Director John Landis’s documentary is formally unadventurous, and barely interested in its subject’s upbringing or the roots of his humor; in the film’s doting view, there is no great subtext, no great mystery, to Rickles’s success or appeal, which is chalked up to the obvious fact that the man is naturally hilarious. Anecdotes flow freely but more impressive is the sight of Rickles—a nearly 50-year vet of Las Vegas—bringing down the house during a 2007 routine at the Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino, in which the 81-year-old displays his gift for working a room by laying into his audience with all manner of unscripted (albeit time-honed) inappropriate and/or offensive comments, many of them out-and-out racist. Chris Rock, George Lopez, and other non-white stand-up artists admit that this bigoted shtick is amusing, and their willingness to let him off the hook would be more surprising if not for the irrepressible chuckles even Rickles’s most noxious bits elicit. As Mr. Warmth, and Rickles’s still-thriving career, bears out, the message is often inextricably tied to the messenger, and Landis’s depiction of the comedian as a universally beloved, loyal, and kindhearted figure helps explain how he continues to get away with doing such politically incorrect material. Tucked in amid fond remembrances and biographical notes about his close relationship to his mom and various Tinseltown luminaries (like best friend Bob Newhart) is a side story about Las Vegas’s metamorphosis from mob-controlled getaway to corporatized megalopolis, a topic that compels many performers to wax nostalgic about the town’s former criminal bigwigs (who, apparently, treated talent very well). Mostly, though, this admiring portrait confirms that funny is funny, and that Rickles’s enduring popularity as the high priest of putdowns can be chalked up to an admirable national trait—at least when we’re in a darkly lit comedy club—to not take ourselves too seriously.
- 89 min
- John Landis
- Don Rickles, Bob Newhart, Harry Dean Stanton, Clint Eastwood, Chris Rock, Sarah Silverman, Steve Lawrence, Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, Martin Scorsese, George Lopez, Jay Leno
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