While everyone remembers Jerry Lewis’s hilarious youth with comedy partner Dean Martin, less is said about his flings with drama. His turn as a burned-out late-night talk show host in Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy was a revelation: Lewis’s every glance and movement revealed a lifetime of Hollywood bullshit and demonstrated the depth of his talent. Almost 35 years after that role, Lewis is back with a similar one in Max Rose.
As the titular Max, Lewis plays a one-hit wonder jazz pianist at the end of his life—though his wife and lifetime love died first. While going through her things, Max finds evidence of a possible secret lover, which puts him in a tailspin of remorse and jealousy, leading him to discover everything he can about this mysterious stranger.
Make no mistake: Lewis acts the shit out of this role. His watery eyes are filled with remorse, defeat, and rage over the passage of time. And the rest of the cast—Kevin Pollak, Kerry Bishé, Dean Stockwell, Mort Sahl, and more—give naturalistic, nuanced performances as well.
And yet? There’s no getting around a script that’s a bunch of manipulative claptrap. From the morose soundtrack—composed in the most obvious, saddest key of D minor—to languishing shots of Lewis slowly walking down hallways (leading the viewer to expect a broken hip at any moment), to the utterly predictable script that attempts to drive tears from your eyes with a whip and a chair, all that’s left to enjoy are the performances. Even then, Max Rose can’t inspire a recommendation.