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Man on the Moon

Rated R for language and brief partial nudity
Starring Jim Carrey, Danny DeVito and Courtney Love

CineSight Rating ** 1/2

Some people called him a genius. Others thought he was either a lunatic or a self-indulgent man-child. Whatever the opinion, it was hard to ignore Andy Kaufman. In this bio-pic, Kaufman (Carrey) seems to have had a completely insignificant childhood. In fact, after an ingenious opening which Kaufman himself would probably have loved, the movie skips through one brief brief scene of a young Andy.

The remainder of the movie follows Kaufman's short but intense career as a comedian/performance artist and television personality. Andy is discovered by agent George Shapiro (DeVito), doing his nightclub act - a bizarre collection of characters and ramblings. The audience is confused, not sure whether to feel sorry for him, be disgusted by him or admire him. That is, until he launches into a wonderful Elvis Presley impersonation, which finally wins them over.

Shapiro takes on the quirky performer and soon discovers the many complicated sides of Kaufman, including his alter ego: obnoxious, loud-mouth Vegas lounge singer, Tony Clifton. Throughout the rest of the story, Kaufman's live and TV performances are always risky and always unexpected. He takes great delight in continually reinventing himself to the point that no one knows who the 'real' Andy Kaufman is.

He bursts onto TV doing a lip-synch of the "Mighty Mouse" theme music during the first "Saturday Night Live" show. Then it's onto the hit sit-com, "Taxi", where he plays the now famous foreign mechanic, Latka. The Latka character is so popular that audiences at his live shows continually request it. But in true Andy fashion, he responds by adopting a refined British accent and reading F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby" aloud - in its entirety!

Kaufman's career then takes a strange turn. He comes up with the idea for a new character - the wrestling bad guy. Since he's too small to take on pro wrestlers, he decides to wrestle women. His first match is on the Merv Griffin talk show, where he riles up a whole audience of women before challenging a volunteer to wrestle him. The volunteer, Lynne (Love), is humiliated by Kaufman. But immediately after the show he apologizes, explaining that it's just his act. Soon they strike up a friendship and Lynne, along with Shapiro, is drawn into Kaufman's weird world.

Andy announces one day that he has cancer. Like the boy who cried wolf, not even his family believe him at first. Everyone thinks it's a new gag or act. Soon the cancer takes a firm hold and despite flying to the Philippines to a faith healer trying out all kinds of new-age cures, Kaufman dies at the age of 37. But before he goes, he does one last live show. His personal extravaganza at Madison Square Gardens, where he invites the entire audience out afterwards for milk and cookies.

While MAN ON THE MOON is quite funny, it is really not a comedy, but a tragedy. It is another great opportunity for Jim carrey to stretch his acting muscles, and already the critics are talking seriously about awards for him and for the movie.

Director Milos Forman has produced a wildly chaotic movie, somehow managing to capture the essence of his very complicated subject. But when all is said and done, even after two hours, the real Andy Kaufman is still an enigma. To quote the movie itself:

ANDY: You Don't know the real Andy Kaufman.
LYNNE: There isn't a real Andy Kaufman.
ANDY: Oh yeah, I forgot.