When I heard that Larry David from "Curb Your Enthusiasm" was headlining the HBO production "Clear History," I was interested to see if he could expand his acting chops and develop a character not based on himself. The furthest he has ever ventured away from playing Larry David (not counting joke cameos such as The Three Stooges nun) was Woody Allen's "Whatever Works," but that really wasn't much of a stretch either. Any thoughts about a transformative performance were quickly dispelled in the first few minutes of this broad comedy. Sharing a screenplay credit, Larry David has once again written for his go-to character of Larry David. If you like this character, and I do, there are quite a few laughs to be had in this flight of fancy. If it's not your thing, however, I'd definitely take a pass. "Clear History," though, does wisely populate the cast with a number of game actors that really sell the piece from Jon Hamm, Michael Keaton, Bill Hader, Kate Hudson, Amy Ryan, Eva Mendes, Danny McBride, Phillip Baker Hall and "Enthusiasm" alum J.B. Smoove. Each is great, really, but this still rests on David's shoulders.
As "Clear History" opens ten years in the past, we meet David as the unorthodox creative type in a start-up company about to unleash an electronic automobile. David can't get past the proposed name for the new car and in a fit of apoplexy decides to leave the company selling his shares back to owner Hamm. Of course, the car is a huge success and David becomes an American whipping boy and national punchline as the man who forfeited a billion dollar windfall. Having to stat life anew, we fast forward to present day and a tranquil life in Martha's Vineyard. Under an assumed identity, David is scraping by as a personal assistant but is surrounded by love and happiness. His idyllic life is shattered, however, when Hamm (and wife Hudson) enter the picture building an enormous estate in the community. Hamm doesn't recognize him, but that doesn't stop David from enacting a revenge scheme to blow up the monstrously huge property (don't ask). With his best friend McBride, they contact Keaton and Hader as the outlaws that can help them get the job done. Most of the movie surrounds David getting access to the house by befriending Hudson and the increasingly silly preparations. That's all I'll say plotwise, but I do want to shout out to both Keaton and Hader for providing (consistently) the film's biggest laughs. In the end, it's all so silly but it's fun enough.
David, as per his specialty, is obnoxious, offensive, or simply oblivious to everyone else in the film and yet still manages to be wildly popular and liked. Supposedly he is a valuable professional with marketing genius. What does that mean? He is disruptive, insulting, and constantly heads off on tangents that have nothing to do with work. Later on at a party, everyone loves him and they even stand around gossiping about what a nice and terrific guy he is. What does that mean? He gets into petty arguments for no reason, ignores others and their feelings, and is generally abrasive and insulting. This behavior is certainly amusing in "Curb Your Enthusiasm" where industry wannabes would certainly put up with such shenanigans from a successful entertainment mogul. It feels slightly less authentic when the salt-of-the-earth regular guy would choose to find it charming. But this is the Larry David shtick, for good or bad, and so "Clear History" succeeds on whether or not the viewer finds it funny. The movie never even approaches realism, it's just a silly little endeavor with a fair share of amusement. For me, the movie rates about 3 1/2 stars but I'll round up for the cast. KGHarris, 8/13.