Dark comedy "World's Greatest Dad" attempts shock value, ends up a bore
I admire Robin Williams as an actor and a comedian, though recently his movies have been hit or miss. His new dark comedy "World's Greatest Dad" looked promising considering his director is also another skilled comedian, Bobcat Goldthwait, the funnyman with the distinctively loud, trembling voice and of the "Police Academy" movies in the 1980's. However, "World's Greatest Dad" in spite of its unusual premise and a few sporadic laughs, is a bland disappointment, faltering in its attempts to deliver sharp and shocking laughs. In other words, it’s a bore.
Williams is Lance Clayton, a man who has settled. He dreamed of being a rich and famous writer, but has only managed to make it as a high school poetry teacher. His only son Kyle (Daryl Sabara) is an detestable bonehead who won't give his father the time of day. The much older Lance is dating the much younger Claire (Alexie Gilmore), the school's adorable but flaky art teacher who has trouble publicly acknowledging their relationship. Then, in the wake of a freak accident, Lance suffers life's worst tragedy and greatest opportunity in the same breath. He is suddenly faced with all the fame, fortune and popularity he ever dreamed of, if he can only live with how he got there.
Dark comedy is a tricky genre, either it works well or it doesn’t, and most of the time “World’s Greatest Dad” doesn’t work. The film’s failure is not all Williams fault, but mainly the uneven, banal direction and writing from Goldthwait, who also makes a cameo appearance. Its first section is painfully slow and takes too much time in developing the premise - Lance’s exploitation of his son’s death for his good - that doesn’t really take shape until its better second half. Dark for sure, but Goldthwait fails to find many wicked laughs to make it an enjoyable experience.
Williams other dark comedy “Death to Smoochy” a few years back wasn’t a perfect film, but there were enough jolting laughs to keep it moving, something this film needs. Goldthwait’s execution is too mellow, and it all comes across as a mediocre, mildly funny movie sorely lacking in entertainment value, focus and energy. Lance smokes pot, tries to have a relationship with a younger co-worker (a contrivance that is as dead as his son is in the movie) and mingles with some of the kids who hated his son while he was alive. Somehow it loses shape, flavor and shock value amidst all these useless meanderings, and it ends up a bland, shallow affair except the ending that provides the film’s only truly shocking moment: Williams full frontal taking a skinny dip in the school’s swimming pool.
Speaking of Williams, he gives a serviceably restrained, overly mellow performance for a comedy in great need of more shock value. With a little more energy, this could’ve gone in an over-the-top direction that would’ve made it much more amusing. “World’s Greatest Dad” isn’t without a few fun touches: the book, the buttons, the T-shirts, even a cameo from Bruce Hornsby (where has he been all these years?) shows how quickly society can unwittingly buy into the selling of the dead.
“World’s Greatest Dad’s” message is that the human spirit is often selfish in its pursuit to better itself, regardless of who is exploited in the process. It’s unfortunate that it’s not more shocking, disturbing or fun to watch.