2017 Tribeca Film Festival: There’s no denying that Dito Montiel is a talented filmmaker. There’s also no denying that comedy is not his forte. That much is clear after seeing the deeply misguided effort “The Clapper” at the Tribeca Film Festival. Aside from a charming soundtrack, nothing works here. It looks for humor in all the wrong places. It sets up a chemistry-free romance. Attempts at satire fall flat. At times, it almost seems to be intentionally off the mark. That’s not the case though, as there’s an undeniable degree of earnestness on display. The concept here had potential, but the execution makes it completely dead on arrival.
Montiel burst on to the scene with “A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints.” Since that debut, he’s been hit or miss, though nothing approaches the failure that “The Clapper” represents. Based on his own book, it’s sadly undeniable that fault lies with him.
Eddie Krumble (Ed Helms) is a professional audience member, or a “clapper.” He poses as a regular joe in the crowd during infomercials and asks canned questions, making a meager living. Eddie is a simple man though, content to do that, hang out with fellow clapper friends like Chris (Tracy Morgan), and awkwardly flirt with oddball gas station attendant Judy (Amanda Seyfried). Then, a late night show hosted by Jayme Stillerman (Russell Peters) mocks infomercials in a simple enough segment. Soon, however, Stillerman notices that Eddie keeps popping up. He becomes infatuated with the mystery man he dubs “The Clapper.”
That obsession begins a downfall for Eddie. Unable to keep working, money is tight, he’s hiding this reality-type celebrity situation from Judy, and struggling to stay out of the spotlight. As Stillerman’s producer (Adam Levine) keeps trying to woo Eddie, things get worse and worse. For a brief moment, the third act shows some signs of life, but all too quickly it’s all pointed toward an undeserved resolution.
Helms is about the only decently cast person in the lot, but he doesn’t have the material or the screen presence to make you want to spend this time with him. Helms can lead a comedy. Just look at “Cedar Rapids” for evidence of that. He’s adrift here though. There’s also the matter of just how much of a loser he, and everyone else here, is. So many simple interactions and situations are handled bizarrely, making you wonder how Eddie and company lived to adulthood. He’s not a man-child either. He’s just poorly written and a buffoon. Tracy Morgan goes his normal schtick, just slightly lower-key than usual. As for Seyfried, she’s miscast and sort of left to drift on an island. The chemistry between Helms and Seyfried is nonexistent too, creating a further issue.
Popping up in cameos are the unfortunate likes of Leah Remini and the late Alan Thicke, along with wasted supporting players like PJ Byrne, the aforementioned Levine, Russell Peters and Brenda Vaccaro. The cast is wholly incapable of cleaning up the mess that Montiel made for them. It’s a shame, too, as a different movie with this same group could have worked.
Writer/director Montiel clearly has affection for these characters, although he’s likely the only one. In adapting his novel “Eddie Krumble is The Clapper” for the screen, he’s not far enough removed to see the flaws in the film. There’s also just errors on screen that called out for a closer eye. Besides no one seeming to understand a computer or the internet in the flick, the wrong webpages are displayed or seemingly secret information is right there on the screen. It’s just bizarre.
It brings no pleasure to report how bad “The Clapper” is. It’s one of the least entertaining things I’ve seen in a long time at Tribeca, and that’s a real shame. Montiel and the cast might bounce back, but the memories of this misfire will linger. It’s a steaming pile of a would-be comedy, with the best case scenario being that it vanishes right after the fest ends. Woe be it for anyone else to stumble upon this one.