Man On The Moon
Rating -

Drama/Comedy (US); 1999; Rated R; 118 Minutes

Jim Carrey: Andy Kaufman
Danny DeVito: George Shapiro
Courtney Love: Lynne Margulies
George Shapiro: Club owner
Paul Giamatti: Bob Zmuda
Vincent Schiavelli: Maynard Smith
Peter Bonerz: Ed Weinberger

Produced by Danny DeVito, Scott Ferguson, Michael Hausman, Michael Shamberg, George Shapiro, Stacey Sher, Howard West and Bob Zmuda; Directed by Milos Forman; Screenwritten by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski

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Written by DAVID KEYES

The life of comedian Andy Kaufman is often looked at as the dividing line in determining what one finds amusing and what one finds unfunny. Humor is among the most thought-provoking moods because it leaves so many people branched; just because one person laughs doesn't mean that the next person does the same. And it is where this debate begins when the name Kaufman steps in; during his lifetime, some people found him incredibly hilarious--others, not surprisingly, thought he was annoying and dull. Sure, most comedians share the same quality, but seldom are they in this magnitude, or in this much difference of opinion.

First confession: I did not find Kaufman funny. Several people did, however, and because of that, his image has almost become transcendental with comedy buffs. Does my personal dislike interfere with my judgment of "Man On The Moon," the biography about this star from "Taxi?" Somewhat. But then again, its hard not to appreciate what the bio-pic has going for it--Jim Carrey stars as the infamous Kaufman, and, since he and the man he is portraying are essentially the same person, he rewards us with a rich, accurate, precise and sensational rendition. Unfortunately, the movie aside from performances doesn't have much else to reward.

The movie plays out almost as fantasy, in which you are on a train bound for departure inside the head of man who was never clearly understood. And yet the trail we follow is always straightforward; it covers all the familiar aspects of Kaufman's life, from the point in which his low-rent career began with Elvis impersonations, to his belief that men were the dominant gender, to his days as a co-star of the hit sitcom "Taxi," and ultimately, to his untimely death in 1984 at the cause of cancer. The journey takes all the necessary paths, and we never feel the need to stop and ask for directions--almost.

Not about story or plot, really, "Man On The Moon" is a solid two-hour character study, following a human life with absolute focus, but ignoring all the deep details because anything in addition would only sidetrack the narrative's intended direction. Life has taught us that Mr. Kaufman's career as an actor and comedian bounced of the walls like a big yellow ball, and Jim Carrey is the greatest asset in personifying the icon's many faces. In fact, the actor's resemblance to the late cancer victim is so uncanny that side-by-side facial comparisons show very little difference between the two. Some might have to take a second glance to be sure which is which.

Indeed, his interpretation is quite eerie and lifelike, but that certainly isn't enough to save the movie from a script that has trouble in giving us the answers we are looking for. For starters, the story surrounding these events becomes clouded when confronting the truth of what really made this guy tick. Was Kaufman always the maniac we foresaw him as? Or was he more of a decent man with the knowledge that any kind of audience reaction is good reaction? In some scenes, he is one; in others, he is completely opposite. Moreover, the title "Man On The Moon" offers a further mystery: is it referring to Kaufman's out-of-this-world style, or the man himself? Skeptics of this man's sanity will not find any evidence to sway their opinions, and very little new information is presented to those who already know enough about him.

The only real reason to see the movie, then, is for the exuberant performance from Jim Carrey, who has steadily crept past his gloomy comedic past to score points with a more receptive audience. He was indeed meant to play the role of comedian Andy Kaufman, because one trait stands above the others in each of them: neither were ever particularly funny. Oh sure, both had respectively generated a chuckle every now and then, but brief chuckles are not the same thing as solid laughs. The latter is induced by a real comedian; if Kaufman ever said something humorous, then he lost steam about ten seconds later. Surely, Carrey can identify with this trait, and as a result finds his own character within this whimsical portrayal. No question, this is the finest performance of his career; the movie itself, alas, is hardly an achievement.

1999, David Keyes, Please e-mail the author here if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.
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