A terminally ill family man races to make amends in a schmaltz opera that indulges Robin Williams' most melancholy tics and themes.
It’s movie night, and you can choose between crazy-shouty Robin Williams (think “The Fisher King”) and blubbering feel-good Robin Williams (like the one who discovers his son, dead from autoerotic asphyxiation, in “World’s Greatest Dad”). Which would you prefer? Trick question! In “The Angriest Man in Brooklyn,” you can have it both ways, as Williams plays the human equivalent of a bulging forehead vein who learns he has 90 minutes to live and spends the rest of the movie making amends, like Ebenezer Scrooge at the end of “A Christmas Carol.” Most auds will prefer have no Robin Williams at all.
Inspired by the 1997 Israeli movie “The 92 Minutes of Mr. Baum,” in which actor-director Assi Dayan tried to imagine how the worst possible news could possibly bring out the best in someone, this schmaltzy remake from “Field of Dreams” helmer Phil Alden Robinson (directing his first film since 2002’s “The Sum of All Fears”) seems to fancy itself a Frank Capra-esque tearjerker. In one of two voiceover tracks, Henry Altmann (Williams) enumerates all the things he can’t abide, at least one of which — delivered while he sits in traffic near New York’s Washington Square Park — casts into doubt whether this guy’s really a Brooklynite at all.
The film’s other narrator is Dr. Sharon Gill (Mila Kunis), one of those inexplicably beautiful internists, like Jennifer Garner’s character in “Dallas Buyers Club,” whom the movies invent to deliver terminal diagnoses. Sharon’s not exactly the picture of inner peace herself: She loves cats but can’t stand people, she’s having an affair with her boss (a weird cameo op for Louis CK) and, in a moment of professional weakness, she allows Henry to believe that his (admittedly serious) brain aneurysm means he has only 90 minutes.
Instead of getting angrier (after all, he spent two hours waiting for the diagnosis), Henry storms out and starts reprioritizing his final moments, treating the 90-minute estimate like a ticking clock. That’s far too little time for him to call up Queen Latifah and schedule a “Last Holiday” sequel, so Henry focuses on repairing what he can of his life “because in the end, family is all we have” — and because Henry wasn’t always so angry.
This we know courtesy of a 25-years-earlier opening scene, which depicts a much-happier Henry frolicking with his wife (Melissa Leo) and two sons in what looks like a TV commercial for one of those medications that’s not allowed to say what it cures. Somewhere along the way, Henry lost one of his children to a car accident (the film flashes back so that, as in the aforementioned “World’s Greatest Dad” scene, Williams can play the devastated dad receiving the news) and alienated the other (Hamish Linklater) by rejecting his dream of becoming a professional dancer.
It seems the only person with whom Henry remains close is his brother (Peter Dinklage), whom he brusquely pushes aside to make amends with the others, while trying his best to maintain his temper. And because this whole melancholy adventure technically qualifies as a comedy, it’s safe to assume that every foreign-born cabbie (Daniel Raymont), stuttering shop clerk (James Earl Jones) and irritating traffic cop (Anthony Jabre) has been put in his way just to antagonize him.
Though much of the script borders on unbearable, compounded by “Juno” composer Mateo Messina’s tell-you-how-to-feel score, writer Daniel Taplitz manages to sneak in some poignant self-help aphorisms here and there. For the umpteenth time in his career, from “Dead Poets Society” to his recent “Boulevard,” Williams is finding another way to drive home what may as well be his mantra: carpe diem. As Henry contemplates what to put on his tombstone, Taplitz’s line may be a little clunky, but it works: “It’s not the dates that matter, it’s the dash.”