Film Review: The Clapper

Ed Helms, the comedian, puts his heart and soul into seriously playing the title role in 'The Clapper', and that’s the big problem here.
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We all know Ed Helms as a comedian, right? He’s one of those guys whose humor is usually sly and slightly cutting, and no matter how silly or stupid he tries to act, Helms is always in on the joke. Because he’s smart.

Well, in The Clapper, Helms plays an aspiring actor named Eddie Krumble who’s really, really dumb—although he’s not quite as dumb as his buddy, Chris (Tracy Morgan), also a would-be actor. In lieu of real acting jobs, these two make a living in Hollywood by playing professional audience members for a series of television infomercials. They’re the ones who sit in the TV studio’s bleacher seats and wildly applaud (thus the moniker “clapper”) every time the flashy pitch-person tries to convince them—and the folks watching at home—that “you too can buy a brand-new luxury home with not one penny down.” 

Their work is neither financially nor psychologically rewarding, of course, but Eddie & Chris make do by living simply, eating fast food and buying only five dollars’ worth of gas at a time. Well, actually, Eddie is the only one who has a car and he buys such small increments of fuel because his frequent visits to the gas station give him a chance to see and talk to Julie (Amanda Seyfried), the cashier who spends her entire shift sitting in a bulletproof glass cage. Pretty but shy, Julie is a perfect match for Eddie in the oddball department, although she’s even less intellectually curious than he is. Her chief passion is collecting and caring for handicapped animals, like her pet goat who has only one horn.

But just as Eddie’s love life begins to look hopeful, his professional life starts falling apart. Eddie has gotten to the top of his game—as a “clapper”—simply because he’s terrific at portraying an anonymous everyman. Sure, sometimes he has to put on a fake mustache or a beard, or wear a slouchy hat to change his appearance from infomercial to infomercial, but he gets away with it because his looks are so bland. Well, not to everyone, it seems. Always on the lookout for a new meme, the staff of a popular late-night talk show discovers that a variety of infomercial audiences often include this one guy—never mind the occasional mustache or hat, it’s him, our anonymous Eddie. So, as a promotional gimmick for the talk show, Eddie’s face is plastered on billboards and in TV spots asking the public’s help in finding and identifying the guy they call “the clapper.” Total strangers stop Eddie on the street to ask his name, and they take videos of him when he goes into full meltdown. Even Chris thinks it’s cool that his best bud has become the center of a pop-culture craze.

Eddie, however, is not amused. This kind of fame will destroy his everyman status, he reasons, and because of it he may never work again. And there’s no money in being a cultural phenomenon. Even when he agrees to be interviewed by the late-night host (Russell Peters), Eddie sullenly grouses about how unfortunate it is that talk-show “guests” do not get paid. His biggest worry, though, is that the news-hungry paparazzi discovers Eddie’s relationship with Julie, and they begin hounding her—disrupting business at the gas station and eventually getting Julie fired. Eddie feels responsible but he can’t commiserate or explain things to her, because he doesn’t even know Julie’s last name, or where she lives. Desperate, he figures out that if he’s ever to find his true love, he’ll have to ask the public’s help. So, yes, he goes back on the talk show.

Written and directed by Dito Montiel, The Clapper is based on his novel Eddie Krumble Is the Clapper. Perhaps Helms and Morgan saw what passes as piercing social satire in Montiel’s script, so they were inspired (or directed) to play it straight—like heavy. For, with the exception of a few bits by Morgan, there’s zero real humor in The Clapper—at least not the kind we’ve come to expect from its stars. In fact, the most delightful performances in the film come from Ms. Seyfriend (who also dumbs herself down, but in a good way) and a couple of cameos from, of all people, Mark Cuban and the late Alan Thicke (in what turned out to be his last screen performance). Also, Brenda Vaccaro does a pretty spectacular bit as Eddie’s no-nonsense mom.

It’s impossible to say for sure, of course, but The Clapper might have been a more successful film if Helms and Morgan had been asked to do what they do best: make us laugh through our tears at the painful absurdities of the crazy, screwed-up world we live in.

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