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Comedian Adam Carolla mines his own career experiences to amusing effect in his semi-autobiographical dark comedy about an embittered stand-up comic. Sharing directing and scripting duties with his frequent collaborator Kevin Hench, Carolla has delivered the sort of in-the-know show business diatribe that benefits from its lived-in authenticity. While most likely to appeal primarily to the comic’s die-hard fans — and there are still plenty of them these days, thanks to his hugely popular podcast — Road Hard offers genuine laughs while displaying real heart along the way.
Those familiar with Carolla’s background, especially his successful stint co-hosting The Man Show with Jimmy Kimmel, will certainly chuckle at the film’s roman a clef aspects. He plays Bruce Masden, the former co-host of the raucous “Bro Show.” While his former partner Jack (Jay Mohr) has gone on to become the star of a hit late-night television talk show, Bruce has fallen on hard times. Now living in the garage of the lavish home he formerly shared with his ex-wife (Illeana Douglas) — who’s now remarried to a custom jewelry and dreamcatcher entrepreneur (David Koechner) — he’s forced to once again hit “the road,” endlessly playing small comedy clubs in towns and cities across the country.
He’s desperate to get back on television and revitalize his career, especially since his ex is insistent on their daughter (Cynthy Wu) attending a local university that costs $60,000 a year. But the best his womanizing, wig-wearing agent (Larry Miller), dubbed “Baby Doll” for his habit of addressing everyone by the nickname, can do is land him a corporate gig that goes disastrously.
To his credit, Bruce blames only himself for his precarious state, admitting that he’s failed to hit the career heights because he never did the required work. But he can barely hide his bitterness during his coffee klatches with his best friends, including a successful sitcom producer (Phil Rosenthal, creator of Everyone Loves Raymond) and a fellow comedian (David Alan Grier) who’s just landed a network pilot.
Appealing to his former partner Jack for help, Bruce is offered a job as the show’s warm-up comic, another gig that falls by the wayside when he gets into an altercation with a hostile audience member.
One bright spot occurs when he meets the beautiful widow Sarah (Dianne Farr), who’s as sharp-witted and acerbic as he is, during his travels. But the fact that she lives in New Hampshire would seem to eliminate the possibility of a long-term relationship. Or does it?
The filmmakers greatly succeed in getting the details of their milieu right, and scenes in which Bruce frustratingly copes with airline hassles, unhelpful hotel clerks and comedy club owners who fail to live up to their “guarantee” provide the opportunity for the star to expertly deliver amusingly profane, one-liner infused comic riffs. Also fun is a scene in which Bruce auditions to become the host of a cheesy reality competition show created by Howie Mandel, with the America’s Got Talent judge gleefully playing himself.
While Road Hard isn’t strictly autobiographical — Carolla, happily, has had more success in both his professional and personal lives than his beleaguered character — it contains enough hard-earned truth to give it real comic bite.
Production company: Sontalia
Cast: Adam Carolla, Jay Mohr, David Koechner, Howie Mandel, Diane Farr, David Alan Grier, Larry Miller, Illeana Douglas, Philip Rosenthal
Directors/screenwriters: Adam Carolla, Kevin Hench
Producers: Nate Adams, Adam Carolla, Kevin Hench
Executive producer: Mike August
Director of photography: Marten Tedin
Production designer: Celine Diano
Editor: Ryan Brown
Costume designer: Stefanie Lain
Composer: Andrew Johnson
Not rated, 98 minutes