In the kind of one-note part that threatened to kill his career before the one-two punch of Zombieland and The Social Network saved it, Jesse Eisenberg stars as Eli, a young man with a bright future as a pianist ahead of him, if not for having to act as a surrogate father for his own drug-addicted, hippie-dippie mother (Melissa Leo, Flight).
Further making Eli put-upon, his little sister (Emma Rayne Lyle, I Don’t Know How She Does It) communicates only via Julio, a filthy sock puppet on her hand. (See, I knew you knew the kind.)
Anyway, Eli’s set to audition for the single spot open for a music conservatory in Boston, but first he has to put Mom in rehab. But her urine isn’t “dirty enough” for the place, and since she doesn’t have insurance, she needs to get high first. So Mom directs Eli to score for her at the home of her dealer, Sprinkles (Tracy Morgan, TV’s 30 Rock).
Oh, if only were things were so simple! But as these credibility-strectched set-ups often go, every plan that could derail does, sending our time-challenged Everyman into a whirlwind that suggests Martin Scorsese’s After Hours stripped of its cleverness and adapted into a family sitcom.
The pacing of newbie Phil Dorling and veteran Ron Nyswaner (an Oscar nominee for penning 1994’s Philadelphia), who share scripting and directorial duties, feels all wrong for the tone, and the dialogue emerges flat from the mouths of very talented people. Morgan, in particular, can make the most mundane lines sound funny elsewhere, yet can’t wring a single laugh out of any of the material. At least he’s in good company, because nobody else can.
Why Stop Now is not so “bad” that it insults and offends viewers' intelligence; it’s too lifeless to approach that level. Still, I do not suggest even starting. For another wry look at a dysfunctional family from Nyswaner, but one that charms, give 1988's The Prince of Pennsylvania a try. —Rod Lott
Hey! Read This:
• The Social Network film review
• 30 Rock: Season 5 DVD review
• Zombieland film review