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NEW YORK — Dave Chappelle, the comedian widely viewed as the inheritor of Richard Pryor’s mantle (and of his fraught relationship with race), begins Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic by proclaiming that Pryor remains the greatest of all comedians, end of story. Clearly happy with that verdict, Marina Zenovich’s film walks viewers through a career that survived more than one disaster that should have killed it. Enjoyable but hardly revealing for longtime fans, the doc provides a reasonable introduction for younger audiences; its limited ambitions make it most suitable for cable, and it should play well on Showtime when it premieres there May 31.
Though it offers testimonials from fellow stars who admired or worked with Pryor (Lily Tomlin, Robin Williams, Bob Newhart), the film devotes ample time to behind-the-scenes partners, from lawyers and managers to collaborators on such early Pryor star vehicles as Which Way Is Up? These voices solidify the doc’s focus on the mechanics and chronology of Pryor’s career (though, to be sure, they also provide colorful anecdotes) instead of a critical assessment or historical perspective. We get only a couple of stray facts about his working methods, and (with the exception of Bill Cosby’s influence) little insight into how he found himself doing stand-up. In fact, the movie’s narrative starts with Pryor already a known face in comedy, with no mention of his earlier stints as a drummer and in the Army.
Girlfriends and wives get plenty of screen time, with pride of place going to Jennifer Lee, who was his fourth wife, then married him again after wives five and six. But there are glaring absences in the roster of interviewees — from frequent co-star Gene Wilder and onetime girlfriend Pam Grier to his daughter, Rain Pryor — leaving viewers to wonder what kind of family politics might have stood in the way of a more in-depth film.
The doc’s expected performance highlights are joined by more obscure film and TV appearances; the most enlightening is footage shot for the Live on the Sunset Strip concert film that followed Pryor’s 1980 freebasing accident. Fans of that film may not know it was shot on the second night of Pryor’s engagement, after a first night in which Pryor simply bombed. Here, we watch as the performer anxiously fails to get his feet under him, then admits “this s–t didn’t work.”
Stripworked at the box office, and Omit the Logic tries to make sense of a career that blazed back to life only to see Pryor sign onto movies with what one observer describes as “white scripts” that made poor use of his talents. Zenovich offers little sense of cause and effect, though, and with Pryor’s multiple sclerosis diagnosis waiting in the wings, she spends little time trying.
The comedian’s final years are viewed from a respectful distance, with only shreds of film showing him after he was debilitated by MS. The filmmaker ends with a truly lovely moment, though, in which Pryor tells Jane Pauley how he hopes to be remembered.
Production Company: Fresh One Productions
Director: Marina Zenovich
Screenwriters: P.G. Morgan, Chris A. Peterson, Marina Zenovich
Producer: Sara Hutchison
Executive producers: Roy Ackerman, Jennifer Lee Pryor, Nick Fraser
Director of photography: Christine Burrill
Music: Mocean Worker
Editor: Chris A. Peterson
No rating, 83 minutes
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