Hot Air

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There’s not a second of this movie I buy. There’s a Rush Limbaugh type of talk show host that finds out he’s related to a African-American girl, who has a mom that’s a druggie. And he’s going to somehow change and became a caring man. He might even let someone that constantly protests his show, have a few hours of air time to air (no pun intended) his grievances. But…I’m such a Steve Coogan fan, I can let all that slide and still enjoy watching him play this character. It doesn’t mean I don’t wish it was better, or that at the very least, could’ve had him wear headphones! All of us radio people complained about that with WKRP in Cincinnati in the late ‘70s. 

Coogan plays shock-jock talk show host Lionel Macomb, whose show “Fired Up” used to be the #1 talk show on radio. He’s slipping a bit in the ratings to a guy (Skylar Astin) that used to intern for him and was his protege. That host is friendly and a bit more religious, and sometimes spouts affirmations that might make you think of Stuart Smalley (side note: since Al Franken is out of a job, why doesn’t he go back to that character?). 

There are always protests outside of the building Macomb broadcasts from, even if it’s not on a day where he said something controversial (the assumption being, he’s always ticking people off with his rants).

When Tess (Taylor Russell) shows up, in a very Hollywood way (he’s in the middle of some afternoon delight) — it’s the first time you’ll roll your eyes. Yet just as I’m wondering how a teenage girl would get past all that security, Coogan has a line that makes me laugh hysterically. And that’s the genius of casting Coogan in a film. About 10 years ago, he played a pit boss in a movie called Finding Amanda. Matthew Broderick has a gambling problem, and had gone to Vegas to find his niece. The picture ended up being released straight to video (I caught it in a hotel), and it’s a shame, because it’s a solid dark comedy.

Last year, the movie Ideal Home (Paul Rudd), had Coogan playing a gay man that finds out he has a son. It got mixed reviews, but I loved it.

And his series of “Trip” movies might not work as well in America, but watching him and Rob Brydon bicker and try to out-funny each other, is just a blast.

So again, I can let the flaws in this film slip. And I’m sure, among many, some might complain about the trope of a “white savior” (one of the idiotic things people tried griping about regarding Green Book).

Not only does Coogan make this watchable, but so does young actress Taylor Russell (Escape Room, Lost in Space). As Tess, how she plays this character and how it’s written, was perfect. Someone else would’ve made her an over-the-top jerk, because of the difficult life she’s had with her mom; or she’d be having battles with Macomb at every turn because of his conservative views. Instead, she agrees with him on a few points and on the things she does disagree with him on, she calmly states her case or calls him out for his boorish behavior. When he’s a jerk to a politician (Judith Light) that happens to be walking the halls, she encourages him to have a spirited debate with her on the air.

Some will argue that the Macomb character doesn’t have to be such an angry, cliche of a rich republican jerk. I certainly think they could’ve written the character better. He could’ve been all bluster and anger on the air, and when he’s off mic, a nicer guy. He could still be a creep towards his girlfriend (Neve Campbell). The way it’s written here, and with Campbell playing such a sweetheart, you wonder why she would even be in a relationship with this guy. There should’ve been at least one scene where he’s being sweet and charming with her (I had the same complaint about Bradley Cooper in A Star is Born). Directors sometimes need to step back and look at the big picture, and think about the motivations of the ancillary characters. 

Director Frank Coraci usually does silly comedies. He’s done three Kevin James films, and about five Adam Sandler pictures. He does a serviceable job with this story. When you’re filming people in front of a microphone, it doesn’t lend itself to a lot visually. You can only show “on air” lights and producers pointing or counting down, so many times. And this story is more of a family drama.

I read one review of this movie that talked about how the radio landscape isn’t like this and that a radio host with rage wouldn’t last long in the business. Well, I’m not sure I agree with that per se, but there’s another problem with that criticism. This is just a fictional story. Nobody is trying to claim this is what talk radio is (even if they might be trying to make a statement about conservative talk show hosts). I remember as a teenager seeing the Oliver Stone movie Talk Radio, starring Eric Bogosian (who also wrote the play). That was based on a true story, but movies don’t have to be based on reality. So if they want to do a fictional story where a guy can scream at his listeners, call them idiots, hang up on them, and advertisers don’t mind the protests outside his building…who is to say none of that can happen? I had more of a problem with the fact that if he’s going to be cheating on his long-time girlfriend, that he’d be doing that in his own place, where he has lots of people working for him.

We also live in a time where anything can happen with these talk show hosts. There’s a scene in the movie where the couple has to leave a theatre because of hecklers that don’t like him. Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have believed that could happen. Yet look at all the republican politicians that are being forced out of restaurants when leftists confront them, curse at them, and in some cases, thrown punches or milkshakes on them. Heck, on the day I watched this screener, the news was abuzz with CNN host Chris Cuomo cursing and threatening to throw a guy down a flight of stairs. He didn’t lose his job for that, and CNN even backed him.

Again, I have complaints with smaller elements of the premise that I find realistic. For example, the fact that Macomb is concerned that the public will find out about this black girl he’s related to, because it will ruin him. Uh…he’s not running for President (and even running for President these days, doesn’t require a squeaky clean personal life).

Elton John was willing to take a million dollars to play at Rush Limbaugh’s 4th wedding. That’s a talk show host that has said a number of things I’m sure Sir Elton has disagreed with. Yet there he is, tickling the ivories for a little cash.

So Tess showing up, would have little effect on his career.

The movie is an enjoyable watch. The first half was a more clever satire, and the second half became a predictable family drama. Although I have to admit, I loved the ending.

I would’ve preferred a bit more humor; Coogan does have a great line about “selling his soul, and now playing a mean guitar” and another about something being “more than 140 characters” when a threat to tweet was made. I wanted a bit more of that.

3 stars out of 5.



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