But does the HBO action comedy work?
Best known for his time at Saturday Night Live and being buddies with Lebron James in Trainwreck, Bill Hader’s new HBO show Barry blends comedy with classic hitman action – kind of. But what does an action comedy look like in today’s day and age? Is it something meant for the good folks who love old fashioned action movie splendor? Or is it simply an edgy mechanism to make a comedy a little bit darker? Let’s review Barry on its action movie merits to see if it’s worthy of any Ultimate Action Movie Club consideration.
So, after watching the pilot, the premise seems to be that Barry (Bill Hader) is a depressed, possibly PTSD, veteran who has been wrangled into the small time world of contract killing. His employer, Fuches (Stephen Root), ineptly hires out Barry to kill people off for what looks to be meager earnings at best. Barry goes on an unglamorous job, knocks some dude off, comes home, plays video games, falls asleep, then wakes up and does it all over again.
However, in the pilot, and to put the series into motion, he gets a job in Los Angeles where he stumbles into an acting class chasing his mark which is run by an eccentric acting guru (Henry Winkler). He’s thrown into the class and instantly finds a friendly support group of wannabe LA actors, most notably an attractive Sally Reed (Sarah Goldberg). From there, things appear to be built so that Barry will perpetually be living a dual life as a daytime LA acting student and nighttime contract hitman.
As a comedy/action series on HBO, the show was greenlit and developed with some serious promise. While the cast may not be the biggest group of A-listers (it’s not True Detective or anything), Root and Winkler are pretty great bit players and Goldberg seems to be on a promising upswing. However, the show rests on Hader, who also wrote and directs the project. And for the most part, he delivers the acting goods. While it doesn’t seem to be that hard to play a disinterested killer who rarely changes facial expressions, Hader at least grants his character one true “acting moment” where he monologues his wartime past and current unfulfilling profession.
Which is all well and good, but for action movie fans, if you want to watch acting, go watch Best of the Best again, the real question is how does this premise line up with the promised hitman sequences and HBO no-limits action? Let’s take a look.
Sadly, the short answer is – meh. With only the pilot to go off of, Barry delivers exactly one action sequence which lasts maybe for 1 minute total. The series opens with what we can assume to be the completion of a badass hit job where Barry is leaving a room where a man has a bullet hole in his forehead, but beyond that opener and a few teasing scenes in the middle, we’re left with one action sequence at the pilot’s climax where Barry does some rapid handgunning to close the story arc.
That being said, the extended preview does promise more action scenes to come, but I’d be willing to bet they’re limited to one sequence per episode and mostly serve as a stylistic break to the Hader’s acting, relationship and romantic escapades. The series looks to be resting its laurels on the scenes in the acting school with Hader’s improv background (not kickboxing tournament upbringing like Chuck or Van Damme), being the show’s driving force. Which is fine as it works quite well and is enjoyable for those reasons, but definitely not one to deliver the action like other modern action comedies like the current Lethal Weapon or the short-lived Jean Claude Van Johnson.
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