Joaquin Phoenix, Jonah Hill and Jack Black all do notable work in Gus Van Sant's off-balance John Callahan biopic

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Cartoonist John Callahan is given an appropriately unorthodox remembrance in "Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot," an off-kilter biopic about an off-kilter guy. The drama handles the 12 steps of sobriety in as honest a manner as any film in memory, but is more comfortable dealing with addiction than it is its subject.   

Joaquin Phoenix is excellent as Callahan, a hard partier who winds up a paraplegic after an auto accident caused by an even harder partyer (Jack Black in a resonant turn). Wheelchair-bound, Callahan draws crude, single-cell cartoons that often mock political correctness or the establishment, and every person they offend is another notch on Callahan's belt.

Callahan's skewed worldview is intriguing, but "Don't Worry" never seems quite sure what to make of the man or his cartoons. Is he a genius, misunderstood and underappreciated in his time? Or is he just a guy working out his frustrations through art? The movie never truly plants its flag. 

It's more interested is his road to sobriety, which is guided by his sponsor, Donnie (Jonah Hill). Hill plays Donnie as an introspective hippie, a washout from a 1977 Eagles concert who's still checked into the Hotel California. Hill has never given a better, more lasting performance, and he deserves consideration in year-end awards talk. 

"Don't Worry" is directed by Gus Van Sant, who's not the guy you call to make a straightforward biopic. He gives the film a few absurdist touches — Callahan is always speeding around in his wheelchair, which is seemingly souped up with nitro boosters — that lend it a quirky, oddball feel. Which, truth be told, is probably how Callahan would have wanted it. 

agraham@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2284

@grahamorama

'Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot'

GRADE: B-

Rated R for language throughout, sexual content, some nudity and alcohol abuse

Running time: 115 minutes

 

  

 

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