Clear History (2013) / Comedy
MPAA Rated: Not rated, but would be likely be R for language
Running time: 98 min.
Cast: Larry David, Jon Hamm, Kate Hudson, Danny McBride, Michael Keaton, Eva Mendes, Philip Baker Hall, Amy Ryan, Liev Schreiber, Bill Hader, J.B. Smoove
Cameo: Peter Farrelly, Wolf Blitzer, Conan O'Brien, Chicago (the band)
Director: Greg Mottola
Screenplay: Larry David, Alec Berg, David Mandel, Jeff Schaffer
Review published August 23, 2013
Clear History is a feature-length original movie made for HBO that features "Curb Your Enthusiasm" star Larry David (Whatever Works), and will likely only be of significant appeal to those who enjoy David's acerbic comedic style. Although the script is credited to four screenwriters (who also wrote and directed "Curb"), much of the dialogue is intentionally improvised, which gives the conversations a more natural flow, though the performances seem to try hard to be funny and only sporadically succeed. Reportedly, only about 30 or so pages of the script had been completed at the time the film started to roll, giving the entire production a loose-hanging, directionless feel that only works in its favor a small portion of the time.
David stars as marketing exec Nathan Flomm, a 10% shareholding partner in a cutting-edge car company. When Flomm disagrees with the name for the company's latest "big thing", an electric vehicle named "Howard", he sells his shares back to the company's owner/CEO, Will Haney (Hamm, Bridesmaids), a move which turns out to have cost Flomm about a billion dollars when the Howard turns out to be a colossal success. Unable to go anywhere without being recognized and heckled, Fromm decides to change his name, appearance, and location, emerging as Rolly DaVore in Martha's Vineyard. Unfortunately for Fromm, his past threatens to catch up with him, as his former boss has taken to relocate in his island, building a large house that the residents consider to be something of a monstrosity.
The base of the plot seems to be partially inspired by the real-life story of Ronald Wayne, a founding partner in Apple in the 1970s who gave up his 10% stake of the company's stock for a measly $800. According to sources, that stock would be worth about 35 billion dollars as of 2011, leaving his name forever tarnished as the guy who would make one of the most colossal financial blunders of all time. The title also has a tie-in to the world of computers, as the command to "clear history" usually means to get rid of all traces of one's activity, usually involving web browsing -- a metaphor for how Nathan Flomm cleared his own history to become a new man that no one could trace.
For the first part of the movie, which is set about 10 years in the past, David wears an unconvincing wig, beard and eyebrows to cover up his current guise of a grey-haired, bald man, which is why, in addition to assuming an alias, no one recognizes him as the publicly disgraced Nathan Flomm. Although anyone who knows David will likely not be fooled by the disguise, as there are few with the same gravelly voice, mannerisms, and banal nitpicks on everything around him, including neurotic rants on the locations of electrical outlets, the amount of times someone washes their hair, and the desire for silverware to always be placed on a paper napkin rather than directly on the rag-cleansed table.
Clear History is directed by Greg Mottola, whose big screen credits include helming some high profile comedies like Superbad, Adventureland and Paul. The direction isn't really the weak point of Clear History, it's the lack of structure in the plot and the substandard quality of the writing, which forces its actors to prattle through conversations hoping to strike upon some comedy gold that rarely congeals. Much of the film's appeal comes through the cavalcade of recognizable actors throughout, including Kate Hudson (Nine), Jon Hamm, Bill Hader (The To Do List), Eva Mendes (The Spirit), Danny McBride (This is the End), Liev Schreiber (Goon), and Michael Keaton (Cars).
If you thoroughly enjoy the work of Larry David, it's probably worth a look, so long as you don't mind that it feels like a litany of slackly put together "Curb Your Enthusiasm" scenes but without the same characters. Fans of the band Chicago will also find it of particular appeal, as the band is not only used liberally on the soundtrack, but also figures into one of the side plots involving Fromm's former lover and whether she had backstage relations with the band members (they also make a cameo appearance to boot). However, it's not developed nearly enough to reach out beyond these limited demographics, as it is padded with dead-end subplots and far too many superfluous characters to consider a well-told story worth 100 minutes of your time.
©2013 Vince Leo