"Heckler" is a claws-out look at the often brutal relationship between performers and their most vocal critics.

Second only to Carrot Top in the savagery of the reviews he inspires, Jamie Kennedy could conceivably get the best notices of his career for “Heckler,” an irreverent, claws-out look at the often brutal relationship between performers and their most vocal critics. Kennedy commiserates with other comics, who share their own worst-case examples in off-the-cuff, “Aristocrats”-style interviews, and wonders how these uncouth detractors would react if Kennedy actually confronted them face-to-face. Properly hyped, this unapologetically one-sided project could score in niche release or as a cable comedy special.

Director Michael Addis’ loosely structured docu argues that everyone who dares appear before a live audience — from Barbra Streisand to Ronald Reagan –gets heckled eventually, using hilarious event footage to make its case. Standup comedians have it worst, and dozens supply anecdotes of audience cruelty — and snappy comebacks.

But “Heckler” shows little interest in the psychology or cultural tradition of heckling. Instead, Kennedy’s out for blood, getting back at those drunken and/or crazy fools with the nerve to interrupt a performer mid-sentence.

After a frat boy flings insults during a show, Kennedy invites him backstage to express his frustrations in person. In another instance, Kennedy calls a heckler onstage and lets him crash and burn in front of the crowd.

Making people laugh is harder than it looks, and “Heckler” makes an impassioned case for a line of work that famously gets no respect. But pic doesn’t seem to understand that the instant feedback comics crave (in the form of laughter, of course) has a nasty side, too.

“Heckler” paints celebrities as sensitive, deeply insecure narcissists who spend much of their free time Googling themselves, taking both praise and criticism personally. Reading scathing reviews of his last few movies online, Kennedy likens critics to an even lower form of heckler who lob rotten tomatoes from the comfort of their mother’s basements. Here, everyone from Rob Zombie to George Lucas to Joel Schumacher can relate, taking the opportunity to bite back at those who’ve dared question their genius. Director Uwe Boll even hosts a boxing match with those who’ve bashed his movies online, and “Heckler” is delighted to cheer on their humiliation.

Kennedy also confronts those who’ve posted the nastiest reviews of his films, attempting to ridicule them as they stammer through reasonable defenses of what they wrote. It’s a great idea, except (a) with the exception of Richard Roeper and Leonard Maltin, no name critics would agree to appear in the film; (b) Kennedy comes across as too weary to spar with the Web critics he confronts; and (c) the underrated actor is unwilling to face the fact that his last few movies simply weren’t any good.Logical potholes aside, Addis and Kennedy have tapped into a rich subject here. It takes a brave man to focus an entire film on why certain people seem to hate him, and pic makes a persuasive case that personal attacks have no place in film criticism. In an amusing gesture, Kennedy caps the film by offering his detractors first crack at the rough cut.

Though built for laughs, pic touches on serious aspects as well, including depression and body image, providing poignant examples of singers (Jewel), dancers (David Elsewhere) and actresses (Nicole Mandich) who were big enough to ignore caustic feedback (even Carrot Top weighs in). To include such recognizable talking heads, the tradeoff seems to have been quickie backstage interviews and less-than-ideal sound conditions.

Heckler

Production

A Jizzy Entertainment production. Produced by Jamie Kennedy, Michael Addis. Co-producer, Chris Roletter. Directed by Michael Addis.

Crew

Camera (color, video), Addis; editor, Alex Ward, Tom McArdle; sound, Jeffrey Alan Jones; associate producer, Emery Emery. Reviewed at AFI Los Angeles Film Festival (competing), Nov. 4, 2007. Running time: 77 MIN.

With

Jamie Kennedy, Louie Anderson, David "Elsewhere" Bernal, Andrew Dice Clay, David Cross, Craig Ferguson, Larry Flynt, Tom Green, Peter Guber, Arsenio Hall, Jewel, George Lucas, Rod Lurie, Bill Maher, Nicole Mandich, Drew Pinsky, Eli Roth, Joel Schumacher, Mike White, Harland Williams, Rob Zombie.

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