Review: Amusing sequel ‘Punching Henry’ finds reality in comedy

The knowing satire “Punching Henry” may not amount to a lot in the end, but getting there is lots of fun. This sequel to the 2009 Slamdance Film Festival hit “Punching the Clown” (both movies were directed by Gregori Viens, who co-wrote with star Henry Phillips) proves another enjoyable trip across the wacky fringes of show biz.

This time, comic singer-songwriter Phillips, again playing himself, is summoned to Los Angeles by his optimistic manager, Ellen (Ellen Ratner), to meet Jay Warren (J.K. Simmons), a big-time TV producer who may be interested in creating a reality show around the sad-sack troubadour.

Jay zooms in on a series concept — “Sisyphus Meets a Real-Life Charlie Brown!” — and he, Henry and Ellen pitch it to a pair of social media-obsessed network execs (Michaela Watkins, Wayne Federman) who spark to the idea.

But since little ever goes as planned for the hapless Henry, his potential ascent — as well as life itself — gets torpedoed at every turn. These obstacles play out in a droll series of “Seinfeld”-like bits involving an ill-placed doobie, a vindictive taxi dispatcher (Doug Stanhope), one-horse comedy clubs, a failed baby-making experiment with a lesbian couple (Tig Notaro, Stephanie Allynne) and more.

The oddly sympathetic, low-key and funny Phillips gets deft support from his limber costars, including Sarah Silverman, Jim Jefferies, Mike Judge and Mark Cohen. Amusing songs too.



‘Punching Henry’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes

Playing: Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica; also on VOD.

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