Certain movies are critic-proof. They're just so attuned to fans of a certain genre that it doesn't matter what Ebert, Roeper, or anyone else says; people are going to see it. Comedian Jamie Kennedy might have thought that was the kind of movie he was making with his documentary Heckler, which opened at Tribeca on Thursday. However, he did just the opposite. It's an entertaining film with good intentions, but it ends up being a self-indulgent slam at critics everywhere, lumping in the bad ones with ones that are actually good at their jobs.
Right off the bat, people who may eventually want to see this movie need to know something: If you're expecting to see 80 minutes examining the psyche of the heckler, you're going to be disappointed. Kennedy and a slew of his fellow stand-up comedians -- Joe Rogan, Harlan Williams, Roseanne Barr, Louie Anderson, George Wallace and Dave Attell are just a sampling of the folks he spoke to -- start the movie by discussing why drunken hecklers do what they do, how they disrupt a show, and how to deal with them. These interviews are inter-cut with scenes of heckling, mostly people who yell at Kennedy during his stand-up gigs, though he also inserts other famous incidents, like a Bill Hicks meltdown at a woman who had the temerity to say "you suck" during his routine. Kennedy also confronts a few sets of hecklers backstage, effectively pointing out to the audience that a) these people really do think they know more about comedy than a professional like Kennedy does and b) they don't have anything more constructive to say beyond their heckles.
But about fifteen or so minutes in to the 80-minute movie, Kennedy and director Michael Addis move from the hecklers in the audience to the hecklers in print: critics. Don't get me wrong; in this day and age, when any idiot (including me) can get on the web and take potshots at people's creations, many critics are no better than the drunks hurling insults at the guy standing in front of that brick wall in the comedy club who's just trying to make people laugh.
Like he does with the hecklers, Kennedy confronts the more vitriolic critics who not only panned some of his poorly-reviewed movies (Son of the Mask, Malibu's Most Wanted), but got extreme and personal. Predictably, he makes most of those critics, who mostly toil for obscure web sites or alt-weeklies, look like know-nothing wannabes.
There's only one critic who really deserves the treatment: Peter Grumbine of Giant magazine, who confronted Kennedy about his comedic rap CD on G4's Attack of the Show, saying the album was so bad that it was more offensive to African-Americans than slavery* and calling Kennedy a "rape baby." In a backstage confrontation, Grumbine seems to take unfettered glee in giving Kennedy his comeuppance, illustrating Kenndy's point that sometimes critics criticize for no apparent reason than they just simply dislike the person they're criticizing.
All of it was interesting and entertaining, especially some of the stories Kennedy's colleagues (and movie industry folks like director Joel Schumacher) tell about the silly heckles and criticisms they've gotten over the years. And from time to time, the interviewees do acknowledge that a) critics do help people figure out what to watch, listen to, and buy, and b) knowledgeable, constructive criticism is useful. But, at a certain point, after the umpteenth person mentions how most critics are just losers who have no business saying anything about their precious work, you start to wonder why Kennedy and Addis haven't gone back to talking about hecklers. Was there not enough material to make more than a short about those people? Or did Kennedy really want to take the opportunity to stick it to every critic who ever wrote anything bad about him?
About halfway through the movie, Heckler really becomes more about "Jamie's Revenge" than a funny examination of a part of the comedy experience that everyone from the performer to the audience hates: the drunken idiot who feels he or she needs to be a part of the show.
There are other minor flaws: seemingly spontaneous conversations between Kennedy and his opening act and other buddies sound at least moderately scripted. Also, segments where slasher-flick magnate Uwe Boll beats the crap out of critics who volunteered to box him in Montreal as well as a dancer who has had to fight through criticism are nothing but filler. There is an really good forty-five minute movie somewhere in Heckler; if Kennedy somehow was able to squelch his own anger even a little, he might have had a good eighty-minute movie.
*Grumbine wrote me to correct his quote. I originally had written that he said the album was more offensive to African-Americans than slavery.
For more HuffPost coverage of the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival, go here.