Once upon a time the name Robert de Niro above the title meant one thing – passionate, powerhouse performances rooted in blue-collar sensibilities, muscular masterpieces of method acting.
You were with him through the desperate journey of The Deer Hunter, you marvelled as he piled on the pounds for Raging Bull, you imitated his famously crazed monologue from Taxi Driver every time you looked in the mirror. You lookin’ at me?
And then someone went and told him that drama was all very well, but comedy was a much more difficult art to master.
And he listened. He put the Oscar-winning roles to one side and started going for the giggles.
Now I’ll give you King Of Comedy, because it’s not really a comedy and he plays a grotesque and self-deluded wannabe who can’t let go of his dream.
But ever since he cropped up in a surprise chucklestome cameo in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil back in 1985 he’s been on the front foot for funny.
There have been dramatic roles, to be sure, but all along the way there have always been lighter offerings of variable quality. We’re No Angels was a bit of a stinker, Wag The Dog had its moments, but once he hit paydirt with Analyze This – as a pre-Sopranos conflicted hood pouring out his heart to therapist Billy Crystal – the writing was on the wall.
He played much the same character in Meet The Parents, which spawned two sequels, and stuck his hand up for voiceover work in comedy cartoons.
Each time he’s not the main man in the cast, he does his shrugs and his shuffles, gets some laughs as the crusty old geezer and moves on.
Even much-praised Silver Linings Playbook had him stuck in the same grumpy old man rut.
Which brings us to The Big Wedding, which is about a big wedding.
Bobby is one half of a long-divorced couple who have to pretend to still be happily hitched when the son they adopted wants to get married and his biological mum, a devout Catholic, has to give her blessing. Oh, what larks. Diane Keaton, also sadly sidelined into comedy support roles in recent years, is the mum, the cast includes Susan Sarandon, Katherine Heigl, Amanda Seyfried and Robin Williams signed up to steal scenes. If it all sounds absolutely predictable, it is.
Also out is The Purge, a 15-rated sci-fi thriller set in a future where everyone is law-abiding but allowed to go bonkers one night a year and all bets are off for 12 hours.
Sensible people lock the doors and hunker down, but that’s not enough to protect Ethan Hawke and his family. Mayhem ensues, courtesy of the crew who remade Assault On Precinct 13, which gives you a good heads-up about what to expect.