The last time Robin Williams had a leading role in a film was in 2009, a year when, apart from the Razzie-nominated Old Dogs, he starred in the World’s Greatest Dad. Bobcat Goldthwait’s film, about a dad who finds his son dead in the bathroom and turns him into a posthumous celebrity by writing him a moving fake suicide note and online diary, turned an innocuous plot into delightfully dark satire. Five years later, Williams is back to play another superlative in The Angriest Man in Brooklyn, but the result is an example of how to take a promising premise and reduce it to tedium, making it safe rather than inventive, complacent rather than subversive, and worst of all dull rather than funny.
Williams’ fuming Brooklynite is named Henry Altmann, and we first meet him on the way to a doctor’s appointment, where Dr. Sharon Gill (Mila Kunis) informs him that he has a large brain aneurysm. When Henry hounds her to reveal how long that gives him to live, Sharon throws out an arbitrary number: 90 minutes.
From there, Henry begins a journey to reconcile with everyone who he has driven away with his irate personality, which he developed after his son’s death two years earlier. He visits his brother (Peter Dinklage), wife (Melissa Leo), and other son (Hamish Linklater), each of whom rebuffs his offer of reconciliation before hearing about his brain aneurysm from Sharon, who is only a few steps behind in pursuit of Henry, trying to take back her prognosis.
Angriest Man, adapted by Daniel Taplitz from a 1997 Israeli film, marks not only Williams’ return to a leading role, but also the first film in over a decade from director Phil Alden Robinson (Field of Dreams, Sneakers). Last time Robinson made a movie, in 2002 (when he directed The Sum Of All Fears), Williams was beginning his forays into darker material with One Hour Photo and Insomnia. Those two movies, along with more audacious comedies like World’s Greatest Dad, pushed Williams beyond the family-friendly roles he focused on in the ’90s. Gone was the inspirational high school teacher, replaced by a series of restrained and unsettling performances.
But if Angriest Man hopes to split the difference between the dark and the light—to lead, in this case, a coarse and unhinged Williams to a heart-warming ending—its balance breaks early in the process. Henry’s temper never registers as anything more than exasperation, constrained as it is by wooden dialogue that includes a distracting habit of beginning rants, much like Foghorn Leghorn, with the looping phrase, “What the hell, I’m asking you what the hell!”
The script fails to capitalize on Williams’ potentially manic energy, but it has no trouble crafting speeches and flashbacks that add mawkish fluff where liveliness is needed. The film’s most egregious fault is that it gives Henry 90 minutes to live but hardly anything to do with that time. Predictably enough, he decides to have sex one final time with his wife, only to discover that she’s been carrying on an affair with their neighbor. In the film’s most wasted opportunity, Henry tries to host a going-away party of sorts for himself, but only one person shows up: his high school friend, Bix, played by Richard Kind, the only member of the film’s rich supporting cast (even Louis C.K. shows up) who manages to shove some personality into his role.
Most people, upon learning they only had 90 minutes to live, would probably go into a panic and seek out family, just as Henry does. But following those cues offers the most facile kind of realism and unlocks the inspirational, warm and fuzzy version of Robin Williams that is his least interesting iteration. Considering its outlandish premise, what the film lacks are any outlandish scenes—or, if not outlandish, then at least ones in the realm of the creative. As it stands, The Angriest Man in Brooklyn‘s overstated title is the first and only step it takes in that direction.