Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project

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New York Film Festival

NEW YORK -- John Landis' film about the legendarily in-your-face comedian Don Rickles may technically be considered a documentary, but no Hollywood comedy in recent years has had a higher laughs-per-minute ratio. Clearly designed to enhance its subject's reputation among the less informed members of the public, this is an utterly hilarious and even moving portrait of a performer still going strong in his eighth decade. Recently showcase at the New York Film Festival, "Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project" is slated for airing on HBO on Dec. 2. Its lack of a theatrical release is a shame considering the hilarity that would ensue.

A decidedly low-budget, low-tech affair, the film breaks no stylistic ground. It is simply an assemblage of commentaries by many of Rickles' friends and associates, as well as a plethora of show business luminaries testifying to his comic genius and ability to offend everyone without being actually offensive. As Chris Rock puts it, "Being funny is like being a pretty girl -- you get away with a lot of shit."

Also included, naturally, are numerous archival clips showcasing Rickles' extensive work in film (all the way up to his recent voice work as Mr. Potato Head in the "Toy Story" films) and television, most notably his memorable guest appearances on Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show." More historically, there is also extensive footage shot at a recent performance, marking the first time that the comedian has allowed his act to be captured on film.

Rickles himself is given plenty of opportunity to speak, and he does so in typically hilarious fashion. Surveying the numerous photographs of notable friends adorning his wall, he observes about each of them in turn: "Dead, dying, almost dead, cancer, dead..."

A digressive but particularly fascinating segment details the transformation of Las Vegas from its glorious heyday of legendary stars appearing on the Strip to its current bland, theme park ambiance. Tellingly, all of the veteran performers interviewed seem nostalgic for the days when the city was run by the Mob rather than today's corporate monoliths.

MR. WARMTH: THE DON RICKLES PROJECT
Salient Media
Dark Horse Indie Picture/Dorri LLC
Director: John Landis
Producers: Mike Richardson, Bob Engelman, Larry Rickles, John Landis
Director of photography: Tom Clancey
Editor: Mark L. Levine
Running time -- 90 minutes
No MPAA rating
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