Picks and Pans Review: Funny Bones

updated 04/03/1995 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/03/1995 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Oliver Platt, Jerry Lewis, Lee Evans

Has any movie previously sketched the connection between British vaudeville and American stand-up comedy? That, at any rate, is the unusual launching point for Funny Bones, directed (and written, with Peter Flannery) by Peter Chelsom.

Platt, a comic whose father is a legendary jokester billed as Mr. Originality (Lewis), bombs on opening night at the Oasis in Vegas. He flees the States for Blackpool, the splendidly tacky British resort where he was born and where, he believes, he can rediscover the wellspring of humor by seeking out local routines. It soon becomes apparent that the local comedic genius is a mentally unstable young man. He's played, brilliantly, by Evans, an uncommonly agile stand-up comic (this is his first feature film) with the bent, wiry body of a bobby pin, a watchful, cunning face that suggests John Malkovich and hair that could have been borrowed from Harpo Marx. He's a find. Scary, but a find.

The movie, however, has problems. Director Chelsom, best known for 1991's pleasant Irish comedy Hear My Song, is going for something darker here. There's a peculiar subplot involving a pair of amputated feet (odd, isn't it? But you probably wouldn't try for laughs with hands). There are also pathetic old vaudeville routines and a lot of ruminating about the heartsick misery beneath the clown's greasepaint smile.

The movie wobbles so desperately between humor and psychosis, it becomes excruciating. One wants to admonish these people with the words of W.C. Fields, who may have been wretched but never pretended it made him a worthier person: "Don't be a mooncalf! Don't be a luddyduddy! Don't be a jabbernow! You aren't one of those, now—are you?" Funny Bones has too many jabbernows. (R)

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