Mr. Saturday Night

Under two tons of unconvincing makeup and three tons of schmaltz, Billy Crystal treats us to half a century in the life of a borscht belt comic who’s a cross between Milton Berle and Don Rickles, focusing on his complex relationship with his manager brother (David Paymer). In the process, Crystal surprisingly reveals that he may have more gifts as a director and writer (collaborating here with Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel) than as an actor. The main dramatic subtext is that the title hero isn’t very nice, and despite a few sentimental retreats from this premise, it’s still what we’re left with. Crystal and company are especially good in handling the various Jewish details (a scene in which both brothers slurp glasses of tea is a near classic), and if they never seem to be entirely sure where their story is leading them, they’re pretty adroit at ducking the usual show-biz cliches. With Julie Warner, Helen Hunt, Jerry Orbach, and Ron Silverand watch for a brief but enjoyable cameo by Jerry Lewis. (JR)

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