Welcome to the Jason Mantzoukas show. The Long Dumb Road, directed by Hannah Fidell, leans full-tilt into the anarchic charm of the long-time cult comedian to decidedly mixed results. Though it’s hard to blame the actor. Co-starring Tony Revolori (The Grand Budapest Hotel), the film concerns two strangers brought together on the… road. One is Nat (Revolori), an art school-bound teen lacking in experience; the other a recently-fired, middle-aged wanderer named Richard (Mantzoukas). On the way to Los Angeles, the duo become fast friends before it all starts to get complicated. Running 90 minutes and featuring some lovely southwestern scenery (courtesy of Andrew Droz Palermo), the film moves along at a nice clip until it begins to run out of steam.
Revolori’s doing fine work here, but the bulk of the weight lies on Mantzoukas. As written by Fidell and Carson D. Mell, the script demands a lot from the actor. He’s been funny forever in and on countless entertainment delivery systems, but has yet to lead so much of a film. Mostly funny and sometimes tragic, Mantzoukas is putting his spin on the eccentric road trip character, following in the footsteps of John Candy, Zach Galifinakis, etc. There’s so much to like about the guy: the wild hair, the million-watt smile, the manic energy. If nothing else, this movie makes the case for Jason Mantzoukas, comedic leading man. His ability to find the humor in almost every moment is a true gift.
Brief encounters percolate the picture, featuring welcome appearances from the likes of Casey Wilson, Grace Gummer, and Taissa Farmiga. Most of the trip-stalling adventures are caused by Richard, testing Nat’s patience and, eventually, the viewer’s. The general structure of the road trip sub genre requires several motivated detours, a surprisingly tough hurdle. As this trip lingers into its third act, too often does it feel like the filmmakers are forcing our two heroes to remain together.
An overlong section involving Ron Livingston plays slightly out of place and only necessary to extend the narrative. Add to this a dead-end scene featuring Pamela Reed, and everything begins to putter a bit. Thankfully, the chemistry between Revolori and Mantzoukas does plenty of work throughout. Fidell’s got a sure hand with her characters, but the story is ultimately lacking. Aside from the goal of Los Angeles, there’s not much else propelling us forward. Wherever it is we’re going, we don’t really get there.
The Long Dumb Road premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and opens on November 9.