Stan & Ollie **

Coogan and Reilly are solid as the titular pair, but film is dramatically uneven and not as funny as you’d expect. 

Is it worth $10? No  

Famous comedians who’ve faded from the limelight present a paradox: We know they’re funny, but haven’t seen them in a while, so we presume they’re retired. Or dead. And wonder, what happened to them?

“Stan & Ollie” knows this, yet never figures out how to handle it. Stan Laurel (Steve Coogan) and Oliver Hardy (John C. Reilly) were the biggest comedy stars in Hollywood in the 1930s, much to the delight of studio boss Hal Roach (Danny Huston). But director Jon S. Baird’s film is not about their heyday; instead, it focuses on the duo’s 1953 stage tour of the United Kingdom, long after they faded from glory on the big screen.

Coogan and Reilly are good in the title roles, but the movie is uneven and never dramatically interesting. It has a few laughs, though not as many as you’d expect in a movie about (arguably) the funniest comedy duo in film history. Part of the problem is that too much of the drama is spoken of but not seen, even though the premise allows for ample flashbacks that curiously never come.

For example, we know it was a contract dispute with the uber-cheap Roach that led to their split. Stan’s contract was up but Ollie’s wasn’t, and although Ollie desperately needed money, he did not stand firm with Stan as Stan negotiated. Stan went to Fox (and for a time thought Ollie was joining him), but his career fizzled, as did Ollie’s. Together they were gold; apart, not so much. We see all of this, but we don’t see the aftermath: The disappointment of a partner not standing by you, how it went when they spoke again, how and why they reunited, how the public reacted to their split, etc. Instead we go from 1937 to 1953, and they’re together in England, not speaking about the past except for one dramatic scene. So much is implied, so little is shown.

Kudos to Reilly and Coogan for capturing the chemistry of Stan and Ollie so well. There are moments in which they’re talking or checking into a hotel, and they effortlessly, unconsciously, start one of their routines. It was second nature to them: Two peas of the same pod meant to be together and incomplete when they’re apart.

A more interesting movie would’ve focused on the 1930s, their rise to success and their eventual parting of ways, with only the latter moments depicting their tour of the U.K. What’s here, written by Jeff Pope, seems to barely scratch the surface of what made this team tick.  

The best thing about “Stan & Ollie” is the makeup. Mark Coulier and Jeremy Woodhead do exceptional work bulking Reilly up to Ollie’s portly proportions, and Coogan has minor alterations to look more like Stan. Too bad there’s not a stronger story around Reilly and Coogan to make better use of their performances. Only someone curious to learn more about Stan and Ollie should endeavor to check this out, and even then you’re better off opening a book.

Did you know?
It took three to four hours a day to cover Reilly nearly head to toe in the prosthetic fat suit to play Hardy.

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