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Larry David's Clear History has some Curb appeal


Jon Hamm and a camouflaged Larry David in Clear History. HBO photo

Appearances aren’t deceiving. Whether hairily fit for Duck Dynasty or appearing au natural, Larry David seemingly can’t escape himself.

Which means he kvetches, bumbles and inevitably comes up short on the human being front in HBO’s Clear History (Saturday, Aug. 10th at 8 p.m. central) It’s basically a camouflaged, elongated Curb Your Enthusiasm episode starring David as hapless Nathan Flomm a k a hapless Rolly DaVore.

The one hour, 40 minute movie is peppered with other name performers, most prominently Mad Men’s Jon Hamm as the inventor of a runaway bestselling, square box electric car named after his son, Howard. Michael Keaton, Kate Hudson, Bill Hader, Danny McBride, Eva Mendes, Lenny Clarke, Curb holdover J.B. Smoove, four members of the band Chicago and a completely un-billed Liev Schreiber also pop in and out.

Un-billed because “there’s a kind of Showtime-HBO thing,” David explained in a recent interview at the Television Critics Association “press tour.” And Schreiber currently is playing the title character in Showtime’s new Ray Donovan drama series. In Clear History, he’s a thuggish Chechnyan named Tibor, who sells Rolly a dynamite detonator and later threatens, ”Perhaps I will take a ball.” All in good fun, which Clear History sometimes is.

The film begins in San Jose, circa 2003. Chicago’s “25 or 6 to 4” invigorates an opening scene in which David’s bearded, long-haired Flomm gyrates happily to the music before being stopped by a cop for veering to and fro over the center line. A bit of Larry David-ian business ensues before he reports to work as a marketing exec for Will Haney’s (Hamm) Electron Motors.

Flomm immediately balks at Haney’s decision to call his new invention The Howard. “It’s like naming a restaurant Hepatitis,” he carps. Now there’s a funny line, at least to me. But it’s not so funny -- at least to Flomm -- when he impulsively quits and takes back his 10 percent share of Haney’s fledgling company. Soon The Howard is populating America’s roadways like TV critics at a press tour buffet table. Flomm’s a national laughing stock, with his forfeited 10 percent share of Electron Motors now worth $1 billion.

His wife immediately divorces him and the harried Flomm flees to Martha’s Vineyard. Ten years later he’s balding, clean-shaven Rolly DaVore, who looks just like David. This is where a menagerie of characters kicks in, with much of the dialogue improvised according to HBO press materials. Undercover Rolly generally is seen as a nice guy, although still persnickety. In one nicely tuned scene, he strongly advises the owner of his favorite diner to put the silverware on a napkin rather than the germ-invested table. Otherwise he has to wash the utensils in his glass of water, necessitating a new glass of same. It can get to be a vicious cycle.

Rolly’s otherwise reasonably blissful life, spiced with regular poker games, is suddenly cartwheeled when Haney invades the island and begins building a palatial estate with his wife, Rhonda (a winningly winsome Kate Hudson). A short-tempered quarry operator named Joe Stumpo (you might not recognize Michael Keaton) also takes umbrage because the property had been owned by three generations of Stumpos. Former Saturday Night Live mainstay Bill Hader chips in as Stumpo’s dim pal, Rags, with various hare-brained plots and counter-plots kicking in when Rolly enlists them to help drive the Haneys out of town.

A little too much of the humor is juvenile, particularly a running joke about how many members of Chicago received oral gratification from Larry’s ex-girlfriend and other townies after a concert appearance 20 years ago. Now the band is back in town, with four real-life members making cameo appearances. And Rolly isn’t about to blow his opportunity, so to speak, to find out exactly what happened.

The band is never shown in concert, but five Chicago songs are part of the soundtrack. David, as only he can, explained at the earlier interview session that he originally wanted to use the Bee Gees and their music. “But then a Bee Gee died. So we were down to one Bee Gee,” he said.

“Didn’t seem so funny,” added the film’s director, Greg Mottola.

Clear History is amusing enough to pull a viewer through it, although those who haven’t yet acquired a taste for Curb might find it the equivalent of a pricey two-drink minimum without enough payback. Whatever your resistance -- or susceptibility -- be assured that David is David no matter how he looks or what he’s named. You certainly could do worse. But he also could do better.

GRADE: B-minus

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