The hard lives and times of standup comedians is the subject of THE MONTANA RUN, a rambling, largely misguided road movie.
Working out of a condemned house in Tacoma, smalltime promoter Doug Atkin (Ron Reid) puts together standup comedy shows for one-week tours on the title's "Montana run" of seedy lounges, roughneck bars and college campuses. For his latest effort, he's conned Andy Miller (played by
writer-producer-director Randy Thompson), a stuffy headliner from San Francisco, and Charlie McKnight (Thompson's wife, Mayme Paul-Thompson), a divorced-mom lady comic, to join him and his loutish MC Brock Mason (Dan Lishner) for a trip through what turns out to be comedy hell. At the first stop
the accommodations consist of cots in the club owner's basement, which Andy forgoes for a motel room out of his own pocket and which Charlie avoids by running into an old friend in the club.
From there, motel rooms are provided, more or less, but the gigs get steadily worse. A show gets cancelled at one club, and that's the good news. At a college campus, Brock's sexist Andrew Dice Clay style goes over like porno loops in a convent. The last stop is a disaster all-around with Charlie
getting hooted off the stage and Andy nearly getting into a fistfight after being heckled off the stage by a Nazi in the audience. Luckily, it's Brock's kind of crowd. He saves Andy and Charlie from being torn apart, but, since Brock was the only one of the three to go over with the audience, the
club owner refuses to pay the full fee.
Between shows, Andy and Charlie seek mutual solace in each other's bed, only to wind up not speaking to each other the next day. There is a dazzling array of bad food, tacky roadside stops and travelers' tedium that leads to the fussy pro Andy's falling out with Doug over the atrocious conditions
and nearly getting into a fight with Brock, a heavy drinker with a girl at each stop, who's nevertheless painfully jealous of Andy's success. Everybody arrives back in Tacoma in one piece, worse for the wear and tear but, in the case of Andy and Charlie, with a new, tentative relationship getting
underway and doubtless new material for future monologues or cable comedy specials.
THE MONTANA RUN certainly has the details down, presenting a starkly realistic, worm's-eye view of comedy and comedians that was woefully lacking in the higher-profile PUNCHLINE. Its situations and characters are both plausible and believable in their day-to-day dreariness. And while that is the
film's strength, it is also its weakness. PUNCHLINE may not have had much realism, but it at least tried to be entertaining. Going too far in the opposite direction, THE MONTANA RUN is a dreary film about dreary people living dreary lives. That they happen to be comedians, the implicit message
seems to be, is only incidental.
As a result, THE MONTANA RUN is something of a cheat, a film about stand-up comedians that is never very funny. Its screenplay is clumsy and artless, not quite amateurish, but pretty close. The same goes for the direction, which aims for a rough, offhanded documentary style. This auteurist
approach would have been fine if THE MONTANA RUN had attempted something beyond compiling every comedian's horror story about every nightmare gig and every sleazy road trip into a single film. As it is, the film's main question remains unanswered, mainly, given what a comedian has to do to survive
and succeed, why would anyone become a comedian in the first place?
Inexplicably, the film makes no connection between the artist, the art and the environment from which the comedian's art arises. Or, to put it more simply, why aren't these people funnier than they are? What snippets we see of their stage shows are uninspired. Offstage, they never test or work on
their material with any particular conviction. Early in the film, Andy is seen driving along and talking into a tape recorder, making observational notes for possible inclusion in his act. The device is dropped as quickly as it appears, but the film needed it, or something like it, to show the
creative process which, presumably, is what should make a film about comedians on the road more inherently interesting than the same film about truck drivers or traveling salespeople.
In the parlance of the comedy profession, THE MONTANA RUN has a good setup, but no follow-through. And it certainly has no punchline. Nicely observed and generally well acted, THE MONTANA RUN is not without its modest virtues. But it could have benefitted by taking itself just a tad less
seriously. (Profanity, adult situations.)
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1992
- Rating: NR
- Review: The hard lives and times of standup comedians is the subject of THE MONTANA RUN, a rambling, largely misguided road movie. Working out of a condemned house in Tacoma, smalltime promoter Doug Atkin (Ron Reid) puts together standup comedy shows for one-week… (more)