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THE COMEBACK TRAIL (2020)
The Comeback Trail poster

CAST
ROBERT DE NIRO
TOMMY LEE JONES
ZACH BRAFF
MORGAN FREEMAN
EDDIE GRIFFIN
EMILE HIRSCH
KATE KATZMAN
PATRICK MULDOON
CHRIS MULLINAX

BASED ON THE 1982 FILM WRITTEN BY
HARRY HURWITZ

SCREENPLAY BY
GEORGE GALLO
JOSH POSNER

PRODUCED BY
JULIE GALLO
PATRICK HIBLER
PHIL KIM
DAVID E. ORNSTON
RICHARD SALVATORE

DIRECTED BY
GEORGE GALLO

GENRE
COMEDY

RATED
AUS:M
UK:NA
USA:R

RUNNING TIME
104 MIN

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Comeback Trail image

The central gag in The Comeback Trail works well and the performances are a hoot, yet an underwhelming third act results in a Hollywood satire that runs out of steam.

Woulda, coulda, shoulda. The Comeback Trail had all kinds of potential to be something great. Perhaps it was the cast of legendary Oscar winners Robert De Niro, Tommy Lee Jones, and Morgan Freeman that raised expectations. Or maybe it was the reunion of De Niro and Midnight Run writer George Gallo (who also directs). Regardless, there is no denying The Comeback Trail should have been a contender, but instead limps across the finish line like a runner who gassed out too early in the race.

De Niro stars as Max Barber, a producer of exploitation drivel who, along with his nephew and producer partner Walter Creason, finds himself in deep debt to ruthless gangster Reggie Fontaine. When a desperate Max concocts a scam to kill off his next leading man and cash-in on the insurance, the unbeknownst would-be-victim is found in Duke Montana (Tommy Lee Jones), a hard drinking and suicidal former western star. Old Duke, however, proves to be unkillable.

The cynicism that Gallo employs in The Comeback Trail can at time be too much. A veteran filmmaker for 30 years, it does feel like Gallo is exercising some “Hollywood blows!” demons here. Thankfully, there is much in the way of on point comedic farce that counters the dark tone of the main plotline. When the films central gag hits its stride, much hilarity is found, especially in the films classic slapstick element, with the sight of Robert De Niro kicked to kingdom come by a horse one of the most genuine laugh-out-loud moments of the year.

Performances from a game cast elevate the material. De Niro delivers one of his liveliest turns in years as a producer on the each of insanity, Zach Braff nails that naïve-simpleton shtick, and Morgan Freeman is clearly relishing playing a pimped-out gangster. The standout though is Tommy Lee Jones, who brings that furrow clenched grit perfected in numerous dramas to a comedic role that is one of his recent best.

It is a shame that Gallo cannot sustain that energy and fun, with a dismal third act tying loose ends with bumbling skill, and dripping in sentimentality that does not blend with the black comedy stylings that is its core. For a movie about the frustrations of the Hollywood machine, The Comeback Trail becomes its own frustrating mess. There was potential here for better.

**1/2

 

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