Middle Man (Movie Review)

Middle Man (Movie Review)

The act that takes the stage before the main performer is usually overlooked and ignored. They are just merely a means to an end to get to the best offering. These acts, or middle men, are nowhere as good as the star and know it, yet they are important to get the crowd ready for the real show. Writer and Director Ned Crowley’s Dark Comedy, Middle Man, gives a glimpse of what it sometimes takes a certain person to move from opening act to headliner.

Middle Man still

Open in theaters nationwide on June 9, 2017, Middle Man follows Lenny Freeman (Jim O’Heir: Accepted 2006, Parks and Recreation series), a forty something year old man who is bright-eyed and very much a momma’s boy. Lenny is a CPA, though he does not seem to be a good one. His mother has just died and the bulk of her assets are being seized by the IRS for back payments. Her 53′ green Oldsmobile is the only asset of value that Lenny is able to keep. Faced with his grief and newfound homelessness, he decides to quit his job and starts his journey across country to Las Vegas to pursue his dream of becoming a stand up comedian. The goal is to be on the Monty Guy show and become famous.

Along the way, Lenny stops on the side of the deserted highway to pick up a hitchhiker (Andrew J. West: Greek series, The Walking Dead series) who is standing in the pouring rain. The hitchhiker introduces himself as Hitch, and though they are obviously polar opposites, they immediately hit it off. Hitch tells Lenny that he used to manage comics and, after some persuasion, agrees to help Lenny to become famous. Hitch convinces Lenny to perform stand up at a dive bar before they arrive in Las Vegas. Just like Lenny is a terrible CPA, he is also a terrible comedian. His comedy is too clean and not of this era. He is heckled off stage. While drinking away his pain, Hitch tells Lenny to use the anger and pain he is now in to get even. When the pair awake the next morning, the body of the main heckler is in the trunk and no real way to get out of the situation. Vegas is temporarily put on hold.

Middle Man still

Lenny is forced to face what has been done, but somehow this allows him to be funny in the darkest of ways. Suddenly, Lenny gets a taste of his dream. He is loved and respected by almost everyone in the small town. T-Bird (Josh McDermitt: Retired at 35 series, The Walking Dead series), who is the headliner of the dive bar where Lenny performs, is the only person who is not a fan. Jealousy for his newly found talent as well as Lenny’s interest in his girlfriend, Grail (Anne Dudek: Mad Men series, The Flash series), sets him firmly as an obstacle for Lenny. Lenny does what he can to comprehend the events surrounding him, as Hitch does what managers do and manages any problems that arise. The film continues to weave a complex web of events that may or may not ultimately allow Lenny to achieve his goal.

The script is somewhat off beat, but highly intelligent. Punchlines land even before the viewer realizes the jokes have been introduced. All of the characters are interesting in their own unique way, to the point that, though not needed, full backstories would probably be just as entertaining. It is also apparent that every actor cast took their roles seriously, even if their characters were, at times, absurd in motivation or personality. It is a rare and special thing to have so many different working parts fit together so fluidly.

Not only is this film hilarious, but it also masterfully shows how a sweet and naive man with pure intentions can lose himself with the wrong influences. O’Heir is brilliant in his portrayal that even in the midst of the awful things Lenny does, it is difficult for the viewer to not want to reach out and assure him that everything will be OK and that he is still a good person. At first, somehow all the events happening give Lenny a type of strength that he did not have before. It is almost as if, as the bodies continue to pile up, the inner turmoil he has to endure allows him to come out of the shell he has hidden in for far too long. In a lot of ways, this film is not just about his quest to become famous, but also to stop being the eternal audience member and become the star of his own life.

Middle Man still

On the other hand, it is difficult to hate Hitch, even though he is a horribly immoral human being. He is intelligent and quick-witted. His motives are not pure, but his loyalty to Lenny is obvious. West’s portrayal is reminiscent of tales of infamous serial killers: charming and magnetic, but at the same time terrifying and utterly unpredictable. He is both Lenny’s best friend but also his darkest enemy.

Dark comedies often fall short of their mark because they do not take things far enough. Middle Man is not one of them. Everything is so over the top, yet subtle at the same time. Just when the viewer might think things could not get any more ridiculous, it does. This film works in a way that even if the comedy was completely taken out, it would still be a decent piece with a clear story, though probably less entertaining. There are so many layers to this film that it is almost impossible to pick the one with the most significance. It is a rare, almost impossible thing to find these days, but Middle Man is positively the permanent resident star on the Las Vegas strip and not just some watered down opening act. CrypticRock gives Middle Man 5 out of 5 stars. 

Lamb Bone Films

Middle Man opens nationwide on June 9th. For more on the film visit middlemanmovie.com

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Sarah Salvaggio
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