In the semi-autobiographical “Road Hard,” Adam Carolla, plays Bruce Madsen, a struggling stand-up comedian.
Bruce had tasted success as a television star. He and his one-time partner, Jack (Jay Mohr) had previously hosted “The Bro Show.” It had enabled Bruce to purchase a sprawling mansion in a fancy Los Angeles neighborhood.
Jack has graduated to being the star of a hit, late night television host. Meanwhile, Bruce’s career has gone into the proverbial toilet. Bruce is hoping to land a network sitcom. However his wig-wearing agent, Babydoll (Larry Miller), can’t land a pilot for Bruce. Instead, Bruce is reduced to appearing on television shows like, “Celebrity Barn-raising,” with fellow show biz has beens.
Worse yet, Bruce has been forced to return to the grueling modus vivendi as a touring stand-up comedian. Bruce may be a headliner. However, he’s performing in small comedy clubs in markets like Addison, Texas.
Bruce’s personal life parallels his career trajectory. When Bruce’s career floundered, his shrewish wife (Illeana Douglas) divorced him. She has banished Bruce from the elegant home that he had purchased. Where does Bruce live? He has moved into the garage, which also doubles as Bruce’s woodshop.
Bruce’s wife has hooked up with Chad (David Koechner), an obnoxious jerk, who makes his living by selling Dreamcatchers and custom jewelry on line. So, Bruce is busting his hump to enable his estranged ex-wife and her new boyfriend to live in a luxurious home. Living in the garage next door, he has his nose rubbed in the nexus of this perceived injustice on a daily basis.
There is one bright spot in Bruce’s life, his adopted Asian-American daughter, Tina (Cynthy Wu). She remains affectionate towards and supportive of her father, even as her mother badmouths her dad. Tina is about to graduate high school and head to college. Her mom insists that she remain close to home and attend nearby U.S.C. Tuition price tag? $60,000 a year! How can Bruce possibly afford it?
Desperate, Bruce implores his former partner, Jack for help. Rather than offering Jack an opportunity to appear on air, he proposes that Bruce accept a job as the audience warm-up comedian for the show. It’s a degrading position, but it allows Bruce to stay off the road. So, Bruce reluctantly accepts the job. As part of his pre-show warm up, Bruce makes a homophobic joke. An enraged audience member jumps out of his seat and assaults Bruce.
The protagonist is a thinly disguised version of Adam Carolla. He co-w
rote the screenplay with long-time collaborator, Kevin Hench, and directed the film. In real life, Carolla has carved out a niche, regularly appearing on radio, television, and podcasts. Between 1999 and 2003, Carolla and Jimmy Kimmel co-hosted “The Man Show” on Comedy Central. One of their most notorious bits involved soliciting signatures on a petition to revoke women’s suffrage.
Of course, Kimmel has gone on to host an ABC late night talk show that bears his name. Meanwhile, Corolla has struggled unsuccessfully to land an elusive network television show of his own. Instead, he has descended to appearing on shows like “The Celebrity Apprentice” and “Dancing with the Stars.” Does any of this sound familiar?
Like his character in “Road Hard,” Carolla specializes in embittered comedic rants, full of homophobic, racist, and genderist material. His perspective is best epitomized by the title of his book, “In Fifty Years We’ll All Be Chicks… And Other Complaints from an Angry Middle-Aged White Guy.” Carolla is a vocal supporter of heightened border security and an opponent of social welfare programs, even free school lunches. However, Carolla also espouses some positions that deviate from traditional conservative values. He is an unabashed atheist and openly supports the reform of harsh marijuana laws. Even minor biographical details are reflected in “Road Hard.” Carolla is indeed a skilled carpenter and his agent is James “Babydoll” Dixon.
The film’s supporting cast subverts the vehicle. Larry Miller and David Koechner are their usual unfunny, annoying selves. The protagonist regularly meets with two buddies, David Allan Grier and Phil Rosenthal (the creator of “Everyone Loves Raymond”) in a local deli. Unfortunately, neither of rgw friends are the least bit funny. In a bravura performance, Howie Mandel is great as an overbearing show biz monster. However, the cast is already laden with a surfeit of unsympathetic characters. Although engaging, Mandel’s presence is overkill. The film has a single appealing character, Cynthy Wu as Bruce’s loyal daughter. Unfortunately, she has an extremely circumscribed role in the film.
“Road Hard” provides a knowing, deglamorized view of the entertainment industry. However, unless you savor Carolla’s abrasive schtick, you’ll find “Road Hard” hard to take.
** No MPAA rating 98 minutes
Nathan Lerner sees over 200 feature films a year. He welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.