As with Robin Williams, the very characteristics that make Dane Cook borderline-insufferable as a comic performer and stand-up comedian can render him surprisingly compelling as a dramatic actor. Mr. Brooks twisted Cook’s amped-up alpha-male aggression to appealingly warped ends, while Dan In Real Life smartly cast him as a shallow, appealing, but fundamentally empty man bumping up hard against the limits of his own facile charm. Cook delivers his most dramatic performance to date in Answers To Nothing (a title that should scare off most of its potential audience), but writer-director Matthew Leutwyler doesn’t play to Cook’s furtive strengths. Instead, he strands a wildly popular stand-up comic in a role that mostly just requires him to stand around looking sad and defeated, even when receiving oral sex from a beautiful woman.
Cook leads a large, largely forgettable cast as a wealthy, successful Los Angeles therapist locked in a loveless marriage that probably won’t be saved by the child he and his wife are desperately trying to conceive through in vitro fertilization. Meanwhile, a beautiful young African-American woman who writes for television wrestles with self-hatred, and a recovering alcoholic attempts to run the Los Angeles marathon with the wheelchair-bound brother for whom she feels responsible.
Like far too many comedians-turned-actors, Cook mistakes a dour expression and permanent frown for a dramatic performance. Cook is miscast and unconvincing as a husband, therapist, and inveterate brooder, but his incongruous presence is all that sets this film apart from the never-ending flood of everything-is-connected Crash/Magnolia/Amores Perros knock-offs littering undiscriminating film festivals. Answers To Nothing’s thinly drawn characters orbit one another like fading satellites until their stories intersect and overlap in arbitrary ways. It doesn’t build to a climax so much as it winds down with a halfhearted shrug and a few feeble false shots of hope. (Maybe we aren’t so different after all!) Films like these have taught us that suffering is the incontrovertible existential fate of attractive Los Angeles residents. Must these dour exercises in alienation make audiences suffer as well?