Director: Brian Herzlinger
MPAA Rating: NR
Film Pulse Score: 6.5/10
Everyone loves a comeback. Whether it’s in life or most notably in sports it always provides for a great story. A rock star returns from rehab to make their greatest album ever. An athlete scores the game winner after returning from what should have been a career ending injury. A teenager who came up short on previous attempts finally gets the perfect score. A team down three to nothing in a seven game series wins the next four to move on to the next round. An awarding winning producer who has been off the stage for a decade returns to produce one of his finest works. Comebacks are great. Who doesn’t love a comeback?
Jack Cosmo, a Tony award winning Broadway writer and producer, has been down on his luck for the past decade. He’s chin deep in debt, $130,000 to be exact, and there doesn’t seem to be a way for him to get out of it. One night some goons come to collect and bring Jack to their boss Big Mike. Much to Jack’s surprise Big Mike is a huge fan. Big Mike makes him an offer he can’t refuse. Well, he could but that would mean swimming with the fishes. Big Mike wants him to write and produce a new musical based on his idea, cast it with people who owe him money and have it ready in three weeks. Cosmo has no choice and the adventure begins.
This is not a musical comedy in the traditional sense. Yes there is singing in the film but there is only one number where the characters are singing spontaneously, “Welcome to Showbiz Kid.” The rest of the numbers stem from auditions and in scenes from the play Cosmo ultimately writes “How Sweet It Is.” The songs themselves range from amusing to melodic. Are the songs good? You certainly won’t be singing them on a regular basis but for the context of the film they work. The two that stand out are the aforementioned “Welcome to Showbiz Kid” and the finale “How Sweet It Is.”
The film rests solely on the shoulders of one man and he turns out to be a revelation. The man is Joe Piscopo. Yup, Dead Heat, Johnny Dangerously, Wise Guys, that Joe Piscopo. In numerous comedies he’s been the second banana. In How Sweet It Is he is the straight man. He really draws you in and has you on his side from the start. The task at hand seems insurmountable and he effectively shows the weight it’s having on Jack. He’s quite good in his duet with Erich Bergen where he does some crooning and dancing. In reality, Piscopo does have a show where he performs Sinatra tunes. Who knew? Of particularly note is the larger than life Paul Sorvino in a rare comedic turn. He’s parodying the gangster roles he’s known for and since he’s an actual opera singer in life he gets to exercise his fine voice on one occasion. It’s great to see actors who have been known for one type of role break out and play the opposite.
The film is of two halves. The first half, which is the strongest, is about how Cosmo puts the show together. The second half, which is okay, shifts the focus from Cosmo to other characters and their involvement in the proceedings. Written by Brian Herzlinger and Jay Black the film is a broad comedy that was in some ways reminiscent of John Landis’ Oscar. Not to say it’s that good, then again many people hated Oscar, it has the same sensibilities. There are some subplots that while amusing feel a bit superfluous. The introduction of Jack’s daughter, played by Erika Chistensen, didn’t feel all that organic and more shoed-in. The funniest moments come from the auditions that take place early in the film. Jonathan Slavin’s ode to crack and a little person with a ventriloquist dummy stand out. Herzlinger does a good job of orchestrating the mayhem but most notably for getting such a strong performance from an actor who is not known for playing this sort of role.
How Sweet It Is is an amusing little comedy. Its humor is broad but clearly the sole intention is to entertain and get some laughs which it does. Like the confections that the musical is about it’s short and sweet. It’ll either tease your cravings and you’ll want more or you’ll feel satiated and find yourself ready to move on to the next piece.