Veteran clown Jerry Lewis and the young actor Oliver Platt, each giving a performance of rare humor and feeling, dig for the bleak roots of comedy in this hypnotic whatsit from Peter Chelsom, the British writer and director of Hear My Song. The film is overlong and flawed by disorienting shifts in mood and pacing. No matter. Funny Bones is provocative entertainment that blends mirth and malice with startling results.
Platt stars as Tommy Fawkes, a comic whose career is dwarfed by that of his father, George (Lewis), a funny-bones comedian who doesn’t rely, as Tommy does, on the spoken word. Tommy is a wreck before opening in Vegas. All show business is out there, and George’s warm-up bit has already stolen Tommy’s dim thunder. Dejected, Tommy jets to Black-pool, the English seaside-resort town where he grew up and watched the great comics perform. Tommy is looking for a new act. Actually, he’s looking to steal one. What he discovers instead are family secrets that deeply shake him.
Tommy finds a woman (the vibrant Leslie Caron) from his past, a half-brother (Lee Evans, the British acrobatic comic, is a revelation) he never knew he had and evidence that his dad might have done a little act stealing himself. Since the film also unravels mysteries about dismemberment and murder, the less revealed in a review the better. But as Tommy and his father face off, Funny Bones packs an emotional wallop that will haunt you long after memories of conventional comedies fade.