Amy Poehler, Timothy Olyphant, Patton Oswalt Impress in LACMA Live Read's 'Raising Arizona'

Raising Arizona Patton Oswalt - H 2013
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Raising Arizona Patton Oswalt - H 2013

Oswalt led a stellar cast, including Ron Perlman, Rachael Harris and Jeff Garlin, in Film Independent's live read of the Coen brothers' 1987 film.

Film Independent's Live Read series of classic film scripts read onstage at LACMA's Bing Theater by dazzling actors has been good, sloppy fun ever since Jason Reitman and Film Independent at LACMA boss Elvis Mitchell launched it in October 2010. But guest director Patton Oswalt's Dec. 12 Live Read of Ethan and Joel Coen's Raising Arizona was a standout, twice as funny as the hilarious 1987 movie.

Before introducing a stellar cast led by Amy Poehler and Timothy Olyphant as cop Edwina and her 7 Eleven-robbing husband, H.I., who steals her a baby, Oswalt called Live Read "a DVD extra fever dream." Doing scenes as originally written, rather than as filmed, and with an all-new cast, he said, "You realize, oh, it could have been a different film."

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Nobody cared that the Live Read lacked the clockwork perfection of a Coen brothers film. Despite script pages that stuck together and botched music cues that caused a grinning Olyphant to yelp, "F--- you!" to the sound man, Raising Arizona was a hoot and a holler at LACMA. As the hissy-fitty, often-sobbing Edwina, Poehler knocked it out of the Bing, wringing her biggest laugh from the line, "Give me that baby, you warthog from hell!" Olyphant's H.I. sounded like the lowlife his Justified character might have become if he'd taken the low moral road, conked his skull, and lost half his IQ. They had chemistry -- heads up, casting directors -- and both were warmer than Holly Hunter and Nicolas Cage in the film (who were much more precise and more dryly ironic). Poehler, who can be funny by flexing her dimples suppressing a guffaw, hammed it up to the rafters.

Sons of Anarchy's Ron Perlman underplayed the baby-heisting biker Edwina deems warthoggish, scoring laughs with a gutteral growl: "My friends call me Lenny. Only I ain't got no friends." As H.I.'s jailbreaker pals Evelle and Gale Snoats, Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key gave a new kind of life to lines like "We released ourselves on our own recognizance ... we felt that the institution no longer had anything to offer us." They were even funnier than William Forsythe and John Goodman in the movie, which made Goodman famous, because of their incredibly mind-melded skill as a duo.

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However, Michael McKean (This Is Spinal Tap) topped them, because his role as H.I.'s wife-swapping, Polack-joke-prone boss was more evil, and therefore more potentially deeply amusing than the other supporting players. As his wife, Rachael Harris (The Hangover) neatly complemented his wicked stupidity.

On a stage bristling with rib-tickling talent, top comic honors went to septuple Emmy nominee Jeff Garlin (The Goldbergs) as Nathan, daddy of the baby snatched by H.I. (and many others), who bellows, "My motto is, my way ... or watch your butt!" On second thought, Garlin's raspy rumble was matched yuk for yuk by the many characters played by Andy Daly (Eastbound & Down). You should've heard his quavery hayseed's voice nail the line in the bank-robbery scene: "Well, which is it, young feller? You want I should freeze or get down on the ground? Mean to say, if'n I freeze, I can't rightly drop. And if'n I drop, I'm a-gonna be in motion."

But only 600 people get to see a Live Read show, which always attracts a line around the Bing, even when it's freezing.