Rated R - Running Time: 1:58 - Released 12/22/99

Milos Forman's Man On The Moon is a weird look into the weird life of Andy Kaufman, the entertainer who dedicated his life to alienating his audiences and fellow performers. It stars Jim Carrey in a deep and well-researched impersonation; Carrey continues to climb out of his previous class-clown persona and into that of a serious acting talent. Czechoslovakian-born Forman has won best director Oscars twice before for One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest and Amadeus; this thoughtful tribute marks another notable credit to his resumé.

The supporting cast includes many actors and friends of Kaufman playing themselves, and some playing each other. For example, Danny DeVito, who worked with Andy on the TV show Taxi, does not play himself, although virtually the entire cast of Taxi is present (Judd Hirsch, Marilu Henner, Christopher Lloyd, Jeff Conaway, and Carol Kane). DeVito, however, plays the part of agent/producer George Shapiro. Shapiro, meanwhile, is also in the film as the owner of a club where Andy performed. Similarly, Andy's writer, Bob Zmuda, is played by Paul Giamatti, while Zmuda himself plays a stagehand at a taping of the live Fridays television show. (Incidentally, DeVito, Shapiro, and Zmuda also are among the film's co-producers.)

Andy Kaufman was as bizarre a performer as they come. Most people who know his work either praise him as a genius ahead of his time, or denounce him as an arrogant jerk who made fools of his friends and colleagues. At the core of Man On The Moon, written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, is the notion that Kaufman was most amused (and thought everyone was most amused) by tension. He would intentionally fool people about who he was, never letting on that it was all a joke, even starting fistfights with other actors and club owners, for the purpose of "real theatre." After his break on Taxi, which he apparently considered the lowest form of entertainment he ever did, he introduced the character of slimy, openly offensive night club singer Tony Clifton, for which he wore a wig, a fat suit, and a pair of dark sunglasses. Then, when people started getting the joke that it was Andy under there, he would have Zmuda play Tony, and he, Andy, would come on stage at the same time, throwing the audience into a stupor.

Just as Andy was confusing people all the way to the bank, he began his infamous inter-gender wrestling career. Having grown up a fan of professional wrestling, he wanted to create the kind of madhouse he had seen in the audiences of matches, but since he couldn't possibly succeed against real wrestlers, he began wrestling women from the audiences of talk shows. This led to a bout with pro wrestler Jerry Lawler (who plays himself in the film), after which Andy was in the hospital for three weeks. Was it real? Was it fake? Was Lawler in on the whole thing? Who knows. But it made people crazy, and that's what Andy wanted to do. And even his death from lung cancer was bizarre, considering that he was a health food nut who never smoked. In fact, some people think he even faked his own death, simply fooling us all again for the sake of the show. Who knows.

Carrey really shines in this film, more so even than in The Truman Show, for which some expected him to get an Oscar nomination. His depth and range are evident as he is able to capture the many sides and characters of Andy impeccably. Also notable is Courtney Love, who proves that her intense performance in The People vs. Larry Flynt was no accident.

Man On The Moon will appeal to Kaufman fans and Carrey fans alike, and even if you're not a fan of either, you can't deny the intriguing quality of this strange story and the skill with which it's told. ****½

Copyright 1999 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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