When director Phil Alden Robinson made Field Of Dreams, he struck all the right sentimental notes regarding the relationships between fathers and sons, and the importance of embracing life (and baseball) while it’s still there to be embraced. By the time the film reaches the point where a crackly voiced Kevin Costner asks his ghost dad to have a catch, only a hard-hearted robot-sociopath could keep from dissolving into a quivering mass of jagged sobs.
In The Angriest Man In Brooklyn, a film about a New Yorker (Robin Williams) who discovers he has a massive brain aneurysm that will likely cause his death within 90 minutes, Robinson tries once again to hit some of those same notes, minus the baseball plot. But this time, he fails utterly. Even with a top-of-the-line group of actors on board—in addition to Williams, the call sheet includes Mila Kunis, Peter Dinklage, Melissa Leo, Hamish Linklater, and, in brief cameos, Louis C.K. and Field Of Dreams vet James Earl Jones—the movie plays out like an improbably plotted work of overly aggressive schmaltz.
The problems start with the premise. Written by Daniel Taplitz (Breakin’ All The Rules) and inspired in part by Assi Dayan’s 1997 film The 92 Minutes Of Mr. Baum, The Angriest Man in Brooklyn focuses on Henry Altmann, an embittered lawyer who shows up for a doctor’s appointment with severe headaches and a raging attitude problem. His usual medic is out, so he instead sees Dr. Sharon Gill (Kunis), a pill-popping, emotionally fragile woman who looks at Henry’s chart and realizes he has a severe aneurysm that Henry’s usual doctor never bothered to discuss with his patient. As an “angry man,” naturally, Henry lays into Gill, demanding to know how much time he has left. She panics, and having just spotted the number 90 on the cover of a magazine in the exam room, blurts out 90 minutes. At that point, Henry goes on an immediate odyssey to repair every relationship in his life—including dysfunctional ones with his wife (Leo) and more significantly, his estranged son (Linklater)—while Sharon dashes all over Brooklyn to find him and get him to a hospital.
A number of aspects of this narrative arc require excessive suspension of disbelief, but the biggest, which also happens to be the catalyst for the entire story, is that 90-minute diagnosis. There are some very good doctors in this world, and Sharon Gill may even be one of them. But Henry believing her when she says his time on Earth will up and go boom in fewer minutes than it takes to get through a screening of Godzilla is too far-fetched to buy.
But this film is obviously aiming for heartstrings, not intellect. It might be possible to ignore such an outlandish plot structure if the film were executed with finesse. It isn’t. Williams and Kunis’ characters are saddled with intrusive voiceover narration in which they refer to themselves in the third person and often explain things that are already perfectly clear via the actors’ expressions. Henry speeds through so many moments, with his brother (Dinklage), his wife, and an old friend (Richard Kind)—who show up at an 11th-hour pre-death party Henry tries to throw himself—that it’s difficult to lock in and connect to any of them.
And as solid as these performers are, too many of the scenes in The Angriest Man In Brooklyn devolve into screechy shouting matches that feel like acting-class exercises rather than contentious moments from the lives of actual people. As a comedian, Williams is at his best when he’s unhinged, but as an actor, he excels when his performances are finely calibrated, as in Good Will Hunting, One Hour Photo, or Dead Poets Society. Here, neither Williams nor Robinson are fiddling with his dials enough to keep him in proper check; consequently, Henry tends to comes across as a profanity-spewing weirdo in some scenes, and a dippy nostalgic in others. Kunis fares a bit better by keeping her emotions more grounded, though even she has some moments where her portrayal morphs into what feels like an extended high-pitched scream.
Like Robinson’s Field Of Dreams, The Angriest Man In Brooklyn is one of those movies that’s supposed to make viewers want to hug their friends, family, and pets afterward. It’s supposed to serve as a reminder that, low moments and all, this is truly still a wonderful life—for Henry, for Sharon, and for all of us. Instead, it’s a reminder that Robinson and Williams have each made some wonderful movies. But this isn’t one of them.