Jokes, anger and sentimentality mix uneasily in comedian Adam Carolla's directorial debut (with co-writer Kevin Hench), "Road Hard." Carolla plays embittered, divorced, near-has-been stand-up Bruce Madsen, once the co-host of a hit TV show but since sidelined to the lonely, city-hopping club grind.
He'd quit if it weren't the only sure, steady thing in a life whose irritants and indignities fuel a steady stream of cutting one-liners about money woes (a daughter going to college), professional jealousy (Jay Mohr's talk show host is Carolla's winking nod to former TV partner Jimmy Kimmel's rise) and entertainment business absurdities (corporate gigs, Howie Mandel).
As with any comedian-driven set-up, the bits and one-liners hit and miss, with the easy target gags — about airplanes, hotels, ex-wives and sex — more often falling flat. It's the movie's slow drift toward happiness, though, when Bruce meets a widow (Diane Farr) with a sweetly razzing sense of humor that spurs a more refreshingly less patently abrasive comedy from Carolla. He's hardly a comfortable actor — as stilted as he is a director, and to say "Road Hard" is directed is being generous — but the unsettledness carries a whiff of charm when Bruce pursues romance over stardom.
For those brief moments, the otherwise routine "Road Hard" doesn't feel like an act.
MPAA rating: Unrated.
Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes.
Playing: Sundance Sunset Cinemas, Los Angeles.