NBC’s “Behind the Camera” series — a compendium of movies mostly raiding ABC hits of the 1970s — goes biopic with this dissection of “Mork & Mindy,” which is really the Robin Williams version of “A Star Is Born.” With two over-the-top performances at its center — Chris Diamantopoulos as Williams and Daniel Roebuck as Garry Marshall — the pic is about as much fun to watch as Williams’ most manic improv riffs. Facing the NCAA championship game in most time zones, NBC will need considerable femme appeal to avoid shooting a ratings airball.
Beginning with Williams in his days as a San Francisco street performer, the narrative follows his meteoric rise after the fast-talking Marshall decides to introduce a “Martian” within the “Happy Days” franchise. Soon enough, he’s at the center of a major hit and neglecting his sweetheart-turned-bride (Michelle Harrison), hanging out in clubs, fooling around and partying — hard and powdery — with John Belushi (Tyler Labine).
Perhaps appropriately, there’s virtually no effort devoted to developing Pam Dawber (Erinn Hayes), who a reporter dismissively alludes to as “Mork & Furniture.” As written by David Misch, who worked on the original series, the movie plays like a straightforward recitation of the corrupting influence of fame. “I will not become Bob Denver,” Williams grumbles to Belushi, after drunks interrupt his club improv shtick with pleas to “Do Mork.”
Even by the standards of pseudodocudrama, this latest entry goes the extra mile in the name-dropping department, as Williams receives a philosophical pep talk from a bogus Robert Evans and chafes at the censors when bogus Raquel Welch guest stars. Later, he gets wild and crazy with an even-more-bogus Jonathan Winters, who the producers hired in a feeble attempt to revive the series — and Williams’ interest — after ABC wrong-headedly bounced TV’s top-rated show to a different night.
As usual, the network suits themselves enjoy a kind of immunity, apparently because they’re not public figures. So all we see of the top guy (“Frank”) is a silhouette as he rearranges the prime-time scheduling squares, a bit like Charlie minus the angels. Think of it as honor among thieves.
Both Diamantopoulos and Roebuck have thankless tasks, delivering convincing impersonations of hollowly drawn, two-dimensional characters. Roebuck should know the drill, having portrayed Jay Leno (with more pronounced prosthetics) as the less interesting half of HBO’s “The Late Shift.”
NBC’s movie strategy remains transparent enough — ordering projects that come completely pre-sold by the title alone, frequently coupled with a smidgen of nostalgia. Given those limitations and modest aspirations, some trips “Behind the Camera” (most notably the one devoted to “Charlie’s Angels”) have been better than they have any right to be. Not so, alas, with “Mork & Mindy,” which doesn’t merit much more consideration than the nanoo-nanoo-second necessary to conceive it.