Jerry Lewis turned 90 in March. Many fans wished hard to see this legendary comedian and virtuoso filmmaker cut loose on screen one more time.
The film, moving even slower than the now 90-year-old Lewis, stars the actor as a jazz pianist who’s just lost his wife of 65 years. He’s depressed and ailing and so his son sells the house and packs Dad off to a nursing home.
But Max still has questions about his marriage, and the one secret his wife kept. And one or two scores to settle.
Every so often, a film comes along designed solely to give a great old actor one last shot at a part, and at an Oscar. Most of the movies lazily assume they can replace a plot with nostalgia. They provide a few twinkles and a bit of shtick, and then sink into a mudpit of sentimentality.
“Max Rose” is no better. In fact, it’s a bit worse.
At least the late-in-life movies of Peter O’Toole and Vincent Price showed the stars off to their best advantage. But whatever you might have liked in Lewis – the antic clowning of his own films, the over-sharing of his telethons, or even the curdled privilege of “The King of Comedy” – you won’t find here.
Instead Lewis’ Max is mostly, simply, dull – staring off into space, shuffling down hallways, grimacing at the people around him. Even when he erupts in anger, there’s little context or motivation (he hates his son long before the kid has done anything to deserve it). So why should we watch?
There are a few old pros who wander through – a still-impish Mort Sahl, a raging Dean Stockwell and, in flashbacks and hallucinations, the lovely Claire Bloom as Max’s still-adored, now-departed wife. Seeing her here is especially sweet, as decades ago she starred in another comic’s valediction, Chapin’s “Limelight.”
But there’s no meat on this story, no connection between its characters – we’ve no idea, for example, why Max has such a special bond with one grown granddaughter, or even what his musical career was like. (The film seems to have been cut down from an earlier version.) And the movie is visually ugly, with obvious, hackneyed touches (the director’s specialty is straight-to-video action thrillers).