Laugh Killer Laugh
Given the title, and the fact that it’s written and directed by former Jerky Boys member Kamal Ahmed, you might expect Laugh Killer Laugh to play as more of a comedy. Maybe it’s even meant to be funny, but it’s less funny-ha-ha and more funny-weird in its outsider, guerilla style take on the neo-noir genre.
Frank Stone (William Forsythe) is an antisocial, anhedonic thug working robberies for mobster “Tough Tony” (Victor Colicchio). He takes no joy or pleasure in anything since being raised in an orphanage by a sadist (Tom Sizemore) who told him that “laughter is for people who are loved; not you.” His abuser’s words echo back, seeming to play through an old, beat-up radio in Frank’s shabby apartment.
One day Frank meets Jackie (Bianca Hunter), who mistakes him for a student in her creative writing class. The class is pretty much as depressing as Frank’s life. Led by an ineffectual teacher (Robert MacNaughton), it’s populated by students with no significant talent mostly there to work through their own issues more cheaply than therapy, and in one case (Kevin Corrigan) solely to tear down everyone else’s admittedly mediocre work.
But Frank joins the class to get closer to Jackie — adopting the name “Oscar Kissel”, in a coded reference to Ahmed’s old “Frank Kissel” character — and he turns out to have something of a knack for hard-boiled crime fiction. Of course, he’s living out Ahmed’s own stabs at writing hard-boiled crime fiction, so “write what you know” sort of works here.
This can only go so far before Tough Tony catches on and tries to have Frank killed. But things go sideways and when Frank wakes up in the hospital he can’t stop laughing.
This inversion from never-smiling before his injury to always-laughing after it is clearly meant to be the turning point of the whole story. Most descriptions of the movie emphasize the coma even over the role Jackie plays in Frank’s transformation. And yet it’s pushed way back into the second hour, and Ahmed never really uses it to much effect. What little time is left he spends in a narrative panic, throwing together whatever stone-cold noirish scenes he can think of to get him out of the corner the more laconic first hour painted him into.
It almost feels like two separate movies, with a heartfelt if not particularly closely observed character study up front shifting awkwardly into a disjointed sequence of blood-soaked genre clichés at the end. Forsythe’s passing resemblance to Tommy Wiseau all but invites comparisons to The Room. And while Laugh Killer Laugh is far more watchable than Wiseau’s opus horribile, it feels like about the same amount of planning went into both films.
Worth It: no.
Bechdel Test: fail.
This review also appears at Punch Drunk Critics.