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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Punchline (1988)

"Nothing is a joke to me. That's why I do standup comedy."
- Steven Gold (Tom Hanks)

Review By: Brian Calhoun   
Published: July 08, 2002

Stars: Tom Hanks, Sally Field, John Goodman
Other Stars: Mark Rydell, Damon Wayans
Director: David Seltzer

MPAA Rating: R for language, adult humor
Run Time: 02h:02m:30s
Release Date: July 09, 2002
UPC: 043396077492
Genre: comedy


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ B+BB D-

DVD Review

Part time comedian Lilah Krytsick (Sally Field) nervously enters a diner to meet a man she has never met before. She tells him a simple password and moments later she is handing the stranger five hundred dollars for note cards containing jokes she has never heard nor seen. This opening sequence from Punchline is a veritable irony, as any good comedian knows that it is not necessarily the jokes, but how they are told that makes them funny. The tone of Punchline plays with a similar irony. The film is about the world of standup comedy, yet never meant to be outrageously funny. Its success relies on a quiet subtlety rather than nonstop belly laughs, and for some reason, this method works like a charm. While Punchline contains more than a few laughs, the filmmakers also slyly sneak into the harrowing side of the entertainment industry without becoming too heavy handed.

Tom Hanks' breakthrough performance contributed greatly to the effective delivery of Punchline. Hanks plays the obnoxious Steven Gold, a struggling medical student who is more concerned with the pursuit of laughter than the pursuit of medical science. However fantastic his performance was in Big, Punchline marks the first time that Hanks spread his wings and let his true versatility as an actor shine. It was an admirable choice and a refreshing departure for him to play a self-centered egotist, transcending the barriers of the silly, loveable characters that were his early claim to fame. Here the audience witnesses him experience the gamut of emotions, masterfully combining his slapstick persona with a significantly more dramatic touch; he exudes comedy at one moment and tear-jerking drama the next. A considerable moment that displays his acting chops is a severe mental breakdown on stage. As Steven continually becomes more and more tormented due to an unusual bout with stage fright, we begin to not only see but also feel his harrowing ordeal. Hanks makes it all look incredibly realistic, almost as if he is actually experiencing these emotions. Through Hanks' tour-de-force performance, Punchline proves to be a testament for his talent as an actor, and a foreshadowing of his future success.

Sally Field also turns in a genuine performance as Lilah, a typical housewife and mother who desperately wishes to pursue her dream of becoming a standup comedian. The beauty of Field's performance is her restraint. Field could have easily depicted Lilah as a carefree comedian one moment and a loving mother the next. Instead, she grounds her character realistically, never allowing the audience to forget her roots as a caring mother and housewife while performing on stage.

Unfortunately, many flaws prevent Punchline from achieving masterpiece status. Aside from Steven and Lilah, every other comedian is given so little screen time, they are barely noticed by the audience. This is especially disappointing during the last talent show, which proves to be the film's biggest fault. Steven's final standup act is not only offensive and acrimonious, it is simply not very funny. Several of these problems can be attributed to the way in which many of the standup performances have been edited. It as if director David Seltzer wanted to hurry through to the next scene without focusing on the important moment at hand. This quick editing does not allow the jokes to breathe, and as a result, few of the jokes truly connect with the audience. I would have certainly welcomed a longer film if it had meant I would have been given more insight into each comedian's personality.

Even though Punchline is deeply flawed, it successfully drives its message home and provides compelling entertainment. The filmmakers have admirably captured the grit and sorrow of the entertainment world without hitting the audience over the head with overt melodrama. Punchline emphasizes the depressing rather than comedic side of standup comedy, yet the film still manages to deliver plenty of hearty laughs. Thanks to honest performances and an intelligent screenplay, Punchline is a gripping look at the serious side of comedy.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 OneTwo
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyesno
Anamorphicyesno


Image Transfer Review: 1988 seems like it was just yesterday, which is perhaps why I was expecting a bit more from the 1.85:1 anamorphic image transfer. Overall, the print is very dusky and grainy. Colors often appear muted and off balance in the interior shots, while outdoor scenes appear more natural. Black level is solid, but uneven contrast plagues dimly lit scenes, resulting in muddy shadow delineation. Several scenes carry an abundance of film artifacts, but distracting video noise is fortunately kept to a minimum. Even though the picture looks dated, I must take into consideration that 1988 was in fact 14 years ago. For a film of this age, the image transfer is quite good.

Also available is a 1:33.1 full frame version.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Frenchyes


Audio Transfer Review: Though sonically dull, the original 2.0 Dolby soundtrack is generally pleasing. Fidelity is clean and clear throughout with minimal hints of distortion. Dialogue is consistently intelligible and remarkably natural. The majority of the soundtrack remains locked in the front soundstage, while the surrounds gently open up when necessary. The biggest letdown is a noticeable lack of bass. Otherwise, this is a solid mix that effectively drives the narrative of the film.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Thai with remote access
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Punchline is yet another bare bones release from Columbia TriStar. The only special feature is a bevy of subtitle options. With Tom Hanks in the height of his super stardom, I would think that the studio would have gone at least to minimal lengths to include a few special features. There must be deleted scenes, or perhaps an interview segment still in existence. While the feature film delivers a great routine, the lack of special features feels like a comedian who leaves the stage before delivering the punchline.

Extras Grade: D-

 

Final Comments

A different kind of comedy, Punchline has its shaky moments, but the big picture delivers. Fans of the film should be pleased with the anamorphic widescreen presentation and the original Dolby surround mix. It is the lack of special features that cause me to give a mixed review. Without so much as a theatrical trailer, this release feels like somebody's bad idea of a joke.

 


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