Laurel and Hardy were before my time, and chances are pretty good they were before your time, too. The comedy duo—who enjoyed a glitzy heyday in Hollywood in the 1930s and 1940s—made their last picture in 1950, and their contributions to vaudeville and cinema have since been overshadowed by those of Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, and Abbott and Costello. In 2019, the phrase "like Laurel and Hardy" still rings, but their movies and schtick seem buried in a dusty cabinet somewhere in Century City.
Stan & Ollie seeks to bring the two back into the spotlight, at least for a bit, and to that end, it's got one major coup: Great casting, with John C. Reilly as Oliver Hardy and Steve Coogan as Stan Laurel. Reilly and Coogan are both reliably delightful to watch, and their turns in Stan & Ollie are no exception: Subtle and sweet, with good humor and impeccable timing, both men are instantly likeable and instantly believable, feeling like real people in an industry that's turned them into easily marketable cartoons. Coogan gives the clever Laurel a soft melancholy, just behind the eyes; Reilly's affable Hardy finds grace and heart even as he bumbles around with clumsy slapstick.
And... that's about it, because the rest of Stan & Ollie is shallow and slapdash, digging into little of the character, history, and insights that, in a story like this one, would seem to be readily available.
Throughout Stan & Ollie, there's just not a lot of there there, with Jeff Pope's script teetering between bald exposition and over-simplified characterization. There's a lingering air of cheapness about the thing, emphasized by Rolfe Kent's chirpy, twee score, and the plot—which follows the aging Laurel and Hardy as they embark on a dubious tour of Great Britain—seems to bustle characters from place to place and stage to stage like it's eager to get to the ending. In Coogan and Reilly's performances, one senses a richness that never makes it to the screen, and hints of a better story that's left untold.