The stand-up comedian Sebastian Maniscalco first worked with Robert De Niro in Martin Scorsese’s 2019 crime drama “The Irishman.” Maniscalco played the erratic real-life gangster Joey Gallo; De Niro’s character, Frank Sheeran, kills him in the movie. Scorsese has a near-uncanny knack for effectively using professional funnymen in serious roles — Jerry Lewis in “The King of Comedy” and Don Rickles in “Casino” to cite but two — and Maniscalco acquitted himself well in his small part.
The point we are obliged to get to is this: Maniscalco has now enlisted De Niro to act in “About My Father,” a romantic comedy largely derived from the comedian’s own life. How largely? Well, Maniscalco plays a character named Sebastian Maniscalco. He’s engaged to his ideal woman, Ellie (Leslie Bibb, who’s charming here), and has finally been invited to her very rich family’s Fourth of July weekend. In short order, Sebastian’s father, Salvo, is invited too. Salvo is an Italian immigrant from Sicily who runs a beauty salon, has a fierce work ethic, is dead cheap and severely opinionated, and has several other traits that make for engaging stand-up comedy and cinematic character work.
De Niro is reliable in his comedic mode. Here, with his hand gestures and the frequent monosyllabic exclamations of exasperation, the actor’s Salvo sometimes resembles a kinder, gentler version of his Jake LaMotta in “Raging Bull.” The supporting players David Rasche and Kim Cattrall as the future in-laws provide good comic foils for De Niro.
Alas, in less than an hour and a half of running time (the director Laura Terruso does orchestrate the proceedings with a palpable sense of dispatch), the movie demonstrates how quickly “amiable and inconsequential” can shift to “hackneyed and labored.” A sickly poultry improvisation gag involving a peacock falls flat, and the speed bump to the happy ending is right out of the Hallmark Movie Scriptwriter’s Handbook.
About My Father
In theaters. Rated PG-13 for language, partial nudity, improvised-poultry humor. Running time: 1 hour 29 minutes. In theaters.