The funniest man in America — and, hands down, the sharpest, most visually adept comic auteur this side of Joe Dante — made me squirm.
It's a shade of Albert Brooks we've never seen. The trademark Harpo Marx locks have been replaced by a rug more befitting an aging, small-potatoes Yiddish mafioso. His eyebrows looked waxed, giving the sockets below the hollow appearance of two menacing black thumb-holes peering out from a mound of poison cookie dough.
In his review of Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive, David Elliott says Albert's line readings "achieve sadistic purity." Not a description one readily associates with the writer, star, and director of such riotous jewels as Modern Romance, Lost in America, and Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World.
Or is it?
His on-screen alter ego is known for the patronizing demeanor with which he tells others what they need to hear in order for Albert to get his way. Why should it be any different when taking a straight-razor to another man's forearm? He's Jack Kevorkian with a calming bedside manner, administering death the same way Marcus Welby would deliver a routine flu shot to a trembling child.
It's been two weeks since I've seen the picture and this chilling instant continues to rattle my nerves. It's an epiphanous moment of betrayal watching the "comedian's comedian" turn the tables and your stomach at the same time. Suddenly, the versatile Mr. Brooks ain't so funny, which makes me admire him all the more...as if that's possible.
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