Adam Carolla has made a career out of being a professional asshole. His schtick is complaining about what annoys him for the sake of comedy. While he’s not for everyone, I happen to find him funny (most of the time), and appreciate his robust honesty. Of course, it could all be a gimmick, but then that would make him one hell of a committed actor, and as anyone can see in ROAD HARD, his latest film, you’ll know that isn’t true. The reason I bring this stuff up is because I believe that your overall enjoyment of this film is largely dependent on your opinion of Adam Carolla. He’s a very specific kind of person, and comedy. So if you aren’t a fan of jokes that dance with racism, homophobia, misogyny, or self-gratification (beating off for the layman), then you might as well stop reading right now, because this movie isn’t for you.
ROAD HARD tells the story of stand-up comedian turned actor turned back to stand-up comedian, Bruce Madsen (Carolla). It’s been years since he was on the mildly successful “The Bro Show” with his partner, Jack Taylor (Jay Mohr), and he’s since struggled to find his footing in Hollywood while his partner has gone on to host the most successful talk show in late night. It’s a strong parallel to Carolla’s own history once co-hosting cable gem, “The Man Show” with partner, Jimmy Kimmel, who eventually went on to host one of the most successful talk shows in late night. While in real life Carolla speaks highly of his close friendship with Kimmel, it’s all but obvious that Madsen is more than a little jealous of his former partner’s success.
After landing a gig on a reality show, “Celebrity Barn Raising,” Madsen is forced to go back on the road doing stand-up to make ends meet–namely paying for his large Hollywood estate which his wife (Illeana Douglas) lives in with her jewelry maker boyfriend (David Koechner). He and his ex-wife also have an adopted Asian daughter (Cynthy Wu) who is looking to go to college, which also becomes a source of financial concern.
When Madsen isn’t on the road he’s meeting his friends, and fellow comedians (David Allen Grier and Philip Rosenthal) for breakfast; meeting with his agent (Larry Miller), or grinding away in Tinseltown to find his next break. We see Madsen jump through a few hoops trying to get off the road and back into a sweet Hollywood gig, all the while having to fight against his fading relevancy.
The bulk of ROAD HARD, however, is watching Madsen actually on the road. For Madsen, being on the road is soul-crushing, stuck in sterile hotel rooms where his key cards don’t work, hotel employees are unhelpful, and a club manager’s “guarantee” is all but. Here we get to see Carolla, albeit uncomfortably, do what he does best, which is complain. If you’re a fan of his podcast, The Adam Carolla Show, you’ll no doubt recognize a lot of the bits he does both on and off stage. And while a lot of the humor Carolla employs here is crude, sophomoric, and questionable in taste (some might even say hacky), it works because it all seems to be stemming from a place of sincerity, and better still: Carolla rarely “wins” these interactions. Part of Carolla’s charm is that in order to play the perennial asshole, he also knows he has to play the buffoon.
Adam Carolla is essentially the human equivalent of Daffy Duck. All talk, but very little to no bite. And all along the way he runs into varying versions of Bugs Bunny, who exist to remind him of how irrelevant and powerless he’s become time and time again.
ROAD HARD, despite its aggressive humor, actually has a lot of heart. It’s part self-exploration and part comedy bit delivery system. While I found the moments of Madsen in misery on the road to be more interesting than his tale of woe in LA, there is enough charm and heart to the personal relationships to be entertaining.
The film also boasts a pretty kick ass soundtrack.