Charlie Day’s directorial debut, which unfortunately plays against his strengths, is now screening at Marcus Point, Marcus Palace, and AMC Fitchburg.
Fool’s Paradise, the newly released comedy written, starring, and directed by It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia’s Charlie Day, plays against Day’s strengths so much that you have to wonder if it’s some kind of meta-prank on the public. Maybe Day is just seeing if he can garner praise from Sunny loyalists for a movie that isn’t funny at all, despite much of the dialogue having at least the rhythm of jokes. It’s currently getting a fairly sizable theatrical push nationwide; and, while it’s hard to endorse rushing out to the theater to see it, you may get the chance to commiserate with other Sunny superfans, and hopefully give Day the chance to get another swing that will connect next time, or simply see a beautiful face, huge.
The premise is a mix of The Prince And The Pauper and Being There (1979) (which Day freely admits to stealing from): a mute, institutionalized man (Day) is dumped on the streets of Los Angeles, and immediately is recognized as identical in appearance to huge movie star Sir Thomas Billingsly (also Day). He’s immediately whisked onto a movie set by an impatient producer (the late Ray Liotta), and begins his ascent to stardom despite not uttering a word, unable to discern acting from reality or stop himself from looking directly into camera at all times. He’s accidentally dubbed Latte Pronto, and a sweaty and desperate publicist Lenny (Ken Jeong) immediately latches onto him.
Every character Latte encounters is too self-involved to notice that the guy is completely blank; they just project whatever else they think is needed onto him. Here, Day is robbed of his signature, manic line deliveries, and prevents himself from making any facial expressions beyond bewilderment or a weak smile, which leave the whole affair completely flat. (For a better use of silent-film era acting in a more modern context, I’d recommend 1989’s Sidewalk Stories.) The initial setup gives a vague promise that Latte’s mute condition will be explained, but that scene must have been left on the cutting room floor (to use a somewhat hackneyed phrase in keeping with a hackneyed movie).
The film was apparently filmed pre-pandemic, and has been languishing in post-production since then. The extended editing time results in many scenes that have the bizarre feeling of comic staging, but with the punchlines excised. The cast is stacked with celebrities that Day surely had to cash in some favors to get: Kate Beckinsdale, Adrien Brody, Jason Sudekis, Edie Falco, Jason Bateman, Common, and John Malkovich all make appearances. And of course Sunny regulars like Day’s wife Mary Elizabeth Ellis, Jimmi Simpson, Artemis Pebdani, Lance Barber, David Hornsby and Glenn Howerton round out the who’s who.
Day has certainly had the most successful film career of the four main Sunny cast members (and recently voiced Luigi in the Super Mario Bros. Movie), but Fool’s Paradise feels closer in tone to Howerton’s appearance in the abysmal Coffee Town (2013) than something that plays to his strengths. After 18 years on TV, presumably Day knows what he does well, so it remains a mystery as to why he would write a vehicle for himself that does none of that. Without the mean streak that presumably rests more with Glenn Howerton and Rob McElhenney than Day (on Sunny), you get something so toothless you can feel some very sentimental gums nibbling your ear.