The Comeback Trail

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A copy of The Comeback Trail has been lounging on my hard drive for going on four months now. This week, temptation finally got the best of me. George Gallo rocketed out of the gate with such propulsion that his feet never touched down. He scripted Brian De Palma’s underrated Wise Guys and a film one can never say enough of, Midnight Run, before making his directorial debut with 29th Street, the knockabout true story of the first man ever to strike it rich in the New York lottery. This was followed by the affable Nicolas Cage Christmas comedy Trapped in Paradise. It’s been almost two decades and seven features since a film with Gallo’s name attached played San Diego — he wrote The Whole Ten Yards. What are the chances of two pictures signed by George Gallo crossing my radar within a four month period? To say he’s on a comeback trail of his own would be half-right. There’s also Vanquish, a crime thriller that’s impossible to overcome. No matter how much trouble Max Barber (De Niro) finds himself in, he always finds a way out. A low-rent Hollywood fringe dweller in hock to mobster Reggie Fontaine (Morgan Freeman) for $350,000, Max comes up with a surefire scheme to pay him back. He scours the Actor’s Retirement Home, looking to cast a former leading man just frail enough that one stunt will kill him. Such a man is cowboy superstar relic Duke Montana (Tommy Lee Jones), a crusty outcast looking to end it all. (When Max happens upon Montana, the old buckaroo has a cocked pistol aimed at his tonsils.) With a $5 million life insurance policy taken out in his name, the rickety curmudgeon’s demise would cause production to cease on day one. Or would it? Suppose his work proves to be so impressive that even Reggie stands humbled by Montana’s return to glory? Robert De Niro’s old Midnight Run buddy has come through again. It’s been years since a De Niro picture has brought forth so much intentional laughter. With his white shock of Albert Einstein hair and bulbous-nosed good cheer, I see Jack Warden in De Niro’s every move. Max is the kind of blustery con-man Warden would have naturally gravitated toward, and it’s great to see De Niro once again sink his teeth into a formidable comic character. (This makes a great double-feature with The Comedian.) It’s unlikely, but one hopes that this is the first of many comedies to pair De Niro and Jones. The Comeback Trail is based on Harry Hurwitz’s 1982 film of the same name, one that’s nowhere to be found. Even the blackest cupboards on the dark web couldn’t turn up a copy. One can’t help but think Hurwitz was inspired by Vittorio de Sica’s After the Fox and Mel Brooks’ The Producers, a pair of ’60s comedies that turn to art as a means of bilking money out of “investors.” Prof. Irwin Corey and Henny Youngman both receive screen credit for “additional material.” And it stars Buster Crabbe in the Duke Montana role! Run the specs on IMDB and if you can track down a copy, please share. (2020) — Scott Marks

Rated R | 1 hour, 44 minutes
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