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Mr. Saturday Night

The premise for the 1992 Billy Crystal movie Mr. Saturday Night would appear to contain the necessary elements for a solid comedy. Crystal stars as an aging Milton Berle-like comedian named Buddy Young Jr., whose comedy style has become dated. The film tells Buddy's life story through flashbacks, beginning with his childhood when he entertained his family and parents' friends in the family living room. Initially working with his brother Stan (David Paymer) as a comedy team, Stan suffers stage fright when the two get their break in vaudeville. With a "show-must-go-on" attitude, Buddy goes on alone and knocks 'em dead. Immediately at home on stage, Buddy has the usual need for attention that often is the trademark of comedians and class clowns. We visit the traditional path of most comedians who came up through the ranks during the '40s, '50s, and '60s, including summer resorts in the Catskills, stage performances, and early television. Yet although he is talented, Buddy's problem is that he doesn't always know when to stop and he begins to offend his audiences. It seems that Buddy's comic genius and sense of timing aren't enough to carry someone who really can't read the room. Buddy never seems in sync with the crowd and can't keep from pissing everyone off, including his brother Stan, who has become his manager and the person who must clean up after Buddy's messes. Unfortunately, Mr. Saturday Night never really gels, and the ending is clichéd and trite. This appears to be a very personal project for Crystal, who also co-wrote the screenplay and chose this project for his directorial debut. In some ways the picture feels like a tribute to the comedians Crystal idolized as a budding comic, but he's never able to raise the character of Buddy to anything more than a miserable jerk. Paymer is excellent here, but his character doesn't get much to do. Overall, it's a film that should be so much better than it is. MGM's DVD release of Mr. Saturday Night is presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) with Dolby 2.0 Surround audio. The generous extra features include a commentary that starts with about an hour of Crystal by himself (which is the best part of the track) after which he is joined by Paymer, a documentary and two featurettes, seven deleted scenes, a gag reel, and and the original theatrical trailer. Keep-case.
—Kerry Fall

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