In his first leading film role since co-starring with John Travolta in the forgettable 2009 comedy Old Dogs, Robin Williams proves he can still go from zero to 60 in the blink of an eye, even when he’s not angling for laughs. The Angriest Man in Brooklyn, which clocks in at 83 minutes, showcases another of Williams’ frenzied performances. Only this time, his shtick is replaced by anger and vitriol, which becomes just as taxing to watch.
Helmed by Phil Alden Robinson (Field of Dreams) with a screenplay by Daniel Taplitz, The Angriest Man in Brooklyn is a remake of the 1997 Israeli film, Mar Baum (The 92 Minutes of Mr. Baum), written, directed and starring the late Assi Dayan. Both films focus on men who are given only 90 minutes to live after a doctor’s diagnosis and how they spend that time trying to get their affairs in order.
When the audience first meets Henry Altmann (Williams) in the most recent version, he’s playing in a park with his wife (Melissa Leo) and two young sons. The gauziness of the scene mixed with the diffused light immediately signals “flashback” (though Williams and Leo really don’t look all that much younger). The family’s having too much fun for the happiness to last, so no one’s really surprised when, years later, Henry’s caught having a bad day stuck in New York City traffic.
He gets into a fender bender with a taxi, and Henry unleashes on the immigrant cabbie, throwing in a few racially tinged epithets in for good measure. It seems that he never has any good days anymore (and it’s not hard to guess why). Henry has become a man with chips on his shoulder, looking for any reason to make someone else’s day as miserable as his own.
After a lengthy wait at the doctor’s office, Henry’s informed by Dr. Sharon Gill (Mila Kunis) that he has a brain aneurysm. Though she’s not his primary doctor, Henry verbally bullies her into telling him how much time he has left. Sharon, who’s suffering an incredibly difficult day of her own, gets flustered, sees a magazine with “90 minutes” on the cover, and blurts out that timeframe. Now even more ticked off and upset at the world, Henry storms out of the hospital and off into the city.
In his hour-and-a-half left on Earth, Henry tries to make amends with his wife (Leo), his business partner and brother (Peter Dinklage) and, most importantly, his son, Tommy (Hamish Linklater). The two have been estranged for the past few years because Tommy left a law career to become a ballroom dance instructor. Sharon, who’s incredibly remorseful for what she’s done, goes on a search for Henry throughout Brooklyn.
Aside from the practicalities of trying to get anywhere in New York City in 90 minutes during rush hour, let alone to get to family members in different locations, The Angriest Man in Brooklyn is hampered by heavy-handed direction and an unbelievable script with a schmaltzy ending. While Williams’ full-throttle performance can be annoying (like the scene in which he gets nasty with a badly stuttering James Earl Jones), he can’t shoulder the blame for this film alone.
Robinson and Taplitz ask the audience to suspend belief too many times. As Henry comes to terms with his diagnosis, he tries to pull together a party for himself at a local restaurant, but no one shows up except a grudge-carrying high school friend. When he jumps off the Brooklyn Bridge in broad daylight—in a scene that looks like bad CGI—Henry emerges from the river with only a limp. (When Mila Kunis swims to rescue him, no one’s there to help them or even film it for YouTube.) And compared to the rest, this might seem like nitpicking, but if Tommy is a ballroom dancer, then he should move like one. The few glimpses of Linklater in the dance studio are wholly unconvincing.
Peter Dinklage stands out with a subtle turn as Henry’s brother, and Kunis has her best onscreen moments with him. When she’s playing opposite Williams though, both their performances are amped up and thrust into overdrive, as if to doubly ensure the audience understands that—shockingly—life can be unfair. The Angriest Man in Brooklyn also employs the use distracting voiceovers by Kunis and Williams, each narrating their characters in the third person to mercilessly belabor this point, and making us hope that Henry’s 90 minutes are up sooner than later.
Christine N. Ziemba is a Los Angeles-based pop culture writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow her on Twitter.
Director: Phil Alden Robinson
Writer: Daniel Taplitz, based on the film Mar Baum (The 92 Minutes of Mr. Baum, written and directed by Assi Dayan)
Starring: Robin Williams, Mila Kunis, Peter Dinklage, James Earl Jones, Melissa Leo, Hamish Linklater
Release Date: May 23, 2014 (in theaters and VOD)