Run Ronnie Run!

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Run Ronnie Run!

For four glorious seasons as a slot-plugger on HBO, Bob Odenkirk and David Cross' inspired sketch-comedy series Mr. Show thrived on a disciplined form of free association, finding an improbable unity in connecting one outré bit to another. Making a movie out of the same left-field digressions and curlicue logic presents a daunting challenge under the best of circumstances, because these delicate threads could easily thin out and unravel when stretched to four times their usual length. But after a classic misadventure in Hollywood–including a regime change at New Line, disagreements with director Troy Miller (Jack Frost, Dumb And Dumberer), and loss of creative control–Odenkirk and Cross have distanced themselves from Run Ronnie Run!, the long-anticipated Mr. Show movie. Cast out into home-video exile, the film doesn't begin to cohere as its makers intended; it strains to accomplish in a bumpy 90 minutes what an average episode could pull off in a seamless 25. With its obligatory plot points, character arcs, and forced resolution, the narrative's demands tax Cross and Odenkirk's sensibility by limiting their freedom of movement. Yet even in its current bastardized form, the film still flickers with moments of great inspiration and vitality, providing isolated hints at the groundbreaking comedy that might have been. Cross stars as Ronnie Dobbs, the only semi-heroic character in the Mr. Show pantheon, a "gentleman of Southern distinction" with a special talent for getting arrested on a COPS-like show called FUZZ. With reality TV taking off, British inventor and showman Odenkirk recognizes an American folk icon in the making, and proposes a weekly series in which Cross runs from police in different cities across North America. Though the move from backwoods Georgia to star-studded Hollywood brings him fame, fortune, and a buxom model from a beer standee, Cross pines for his on-again/off-again wife (Jill Talley) and gets disillusioned by his celebrity. Run Ronnie Run! tacks on a horribly labored subplot about Cross' run-ins with a power-hungry redneck sheriff turned Georgia governor, but the comedy works best when the jokes spin completely off the page. With some original gags and a few others cribbed directly from Mr. Show, several of the interludes are stand-alone classics, including Mandy Patinkin's Ronnie Dobbs musical ("Y'all are brutalizing me"), Jack Black's ribald take on the chimney-sweep number from Mary Poppins, and an uproarious love montage set to the soulful white R&B of Three Times One Minus One. It may be cold comfort for Odenkirk and Cross, but Run Ronnie Run! seems perfect for the DVD generation: If they skip past the low hick comedy and creaky plot elements, fans can make a 15-minute masterpiece out of the right chapter stops.