Fool's Paradise

Fool’s Paradise is sort of like if you crossed a Charlie Chaplin comedy with Being There. Of course, it’s not anywhere near as brilliant as Chaplin’s best work, nor Hal Ashby’s 1979 masterpiece. Still, writer/director/star Charlie Day is clearly aiming high, and you have to respect that. His homage is consistently funny, with a couple sequences that are outright hilarious. It isn’t going to go down in the history books as a cinematic classic, but it’s a solid effort that, aside from the clunker ending, made me laugh on a regular basis.

Day plays a selectively mute man who is discharged from a mental institution and put on a bus to downtown L.A. While selling oranges – or, more accurately, imitating someone else selling oranges – along the side of the road, he encounters a Hollywood producer (Ray Liotta) who takes him back to the studio where he’s working on a Western about Billy the Kid. The non-speaking guy happens to be a dead ringer for the obnoxious Method-acting star delaying production with his antics. A switch is made and the newly-dubbed “Latte Pronto” finishes out the role, despite repeatedly staring straight into the camera in confusion.

Latte’s unintentional schtick proves to be a hit. He subsequently lands a publicist (Ken Jeong), an agent (Edie Falco), a movie star wife (Kate Beckinsale), and a second gig in a superhero movie being directed by a hotshot director (Jason Sudeikis). Fool’s Paradise tracks his rise-and-fall trajectory as he moves through the Hollywood system. Like Chauncey Gardner in Being There, everyone he encounters mistakes his bewilderment for enlightenment. Accidentally kicking over a table, for example, is viewed as an inspired comedic bit.

The supporting characters are all eccentric and humorous. Beckinsale is a scream as the actress who preys on Latte because he’s the Next Big Thing, then is ready to move on the second that situation begins to change. Sudeikis is terrific, too, capturing the Michael Bay-ish narcissism of directors who helm mega-blockbusters. Jason Bateman is briefly on-hand as an effects technician on the superhero movie set, expertly delivering sarcastic remarks in his inimitable style. Everyone in the eclectic all-star ensemble cast works in service of the story’s ideas.

Most of the heavy lifting is required from Charlie Day, though. He invents his own version of Chaplin’s “Tramp” character, similarly relying on facial expressions and physical movements to earn laughs. The actor is incredibly gifted that way, which I did not expect from someone who often plays hyper, motor-mouthed characters. A scene where the innocent Latte attends a party and spontaneously begins dancing to The Safaris’ “Wipeout” had me doubled over with laughter. Day never once loses the I don’t understand what’s going on here! quality of Latte. He doesn’t overplay it, either. It’s a beautifully modulated performance.

The movie’s observations about show business are perhaps nothing new, and the last twenty minutes veer into misguided political satire involving a Charles Koch-like figure played by John Malkovich. Despite a few clunky elements, Fool’s Paradise is still enjoyable for the way it puts this quiet, simple man into scenarios that are outsized and beyond his ability to grasp. Latte Pronto goes through a ton of highs and lows, few, if any, of which he actually registers the meaning of.

out of four

Fool's Paradise is rated R for language, some drug use, and sexual content. The running time is 1 hour and 37 minutes.