'The Comeback Trail' follows Max Barber (Robert De Niro), an optimistic but not particularly successful movie producer. Max has landed himself in life-threatening debt with mob boss Reggie Fontaine (Morgan Freeman) after his latest film flops. But he learns that if his lead actor were to die doing a stunt during a movie, he could rake in the insurance. Thus Max casts Duke Montana (Tommy Lee Jones) in a new western, but Duke proves hardier than Max thought, as disaster after disaster befalls the film set.
There’s something self-reflective about the opening scene of ‘The Comeback Trail’ as a bad movie review is read aloud by Max’s nephew, Walter. Walter is played here by ‘Scrubs’ star Zach Braff in an unusually irksome performance, owing to the meek, naïve and moany nature of his character. But this isn’t the only character of a joyless nature, since De Niro, Freeman and Jones all reverberate the grumpy old man stereotype. It feels like all three actors are phoning it in with regards to their performance. Knowing how lacklustre the script is, they make just enough effort that you can’t blame any individual entirely for the woeful nature of the movie.
And yet it falls to Robert De Niro to carry the story and lead the cast, and one can’t help but cringe at the fact that the two-time Oscar winner can add this to his run of terrible movies such as ‘War with Grandpa’, ‘Last Vegas’ (also starring Freeman) and, worst of all, ‘Dirty Grandpa’. Sure he’s peppered in work on ‘Joker’ and ‘The Irishman’ in the years in between. But why he keeps choosing to do these terrible, painfully unfunny movies is beyond me. One supposes that there must be a lot more fun making these features than the final product reflects.
But ‘The Comeback Trail’ is not only not funny. It is also populated by completely unlikeable characters. They just spend most of their time yelling at each other, and the jokes about female directors and old people farting are stale and basic. There’s maybe a little bit of a kick from seeing Jones play a western star with a diva attitude, but not really. Then there’s this horse bit that’s again just devoid of humour. This movie isn’t even slapstick. It’s slaptwig.
During the third act, Zach Braff slaps Robert De Niro across the face. This reviewer wishes someone would slap these bad movies out of the actor’s system once and for all.