FILM REVIEW -The Return of Harold Buttleman: Daredevil Stuntman
Starring: John Hawks, Anita Barone, Dan Castellaneta
Release date: February, 5, 2018
I feel a little weird saying this, but I had never heard of Harold Buttleman: Daredevil Stuntman. But now that I have seen it, I feel in some ways, my life is almost richer for it.
Directed by Francis Stokes, this remastered re-release of the 2003 spoof on the MTV series, Jackass, centers around a tuxedo shop employee named Harold, who dreams of following in the footsteps of his heroes Evel Knievel and the Human Cannonball by becoming the next great stuntman. With help of his friends, Harold begins video tapping a series of his amateur and quite silly stunts to show on a local basic cable show at three in the morning. However, there is one problem, Harold has no real stunt training, just a dream and whole lot of determination.
Needless to say, this desire to risk his life has wreaked some havoc in the lives of many of the people around Harold. Harold's parents want him to move out of their basement, while Harold's girlfriend, Wendy (played by Anita Barone), wants him to grow up and get a more normal life.
But Harold is determined, come hell or high water, that he's going to prove them all wrong and realize his dream of becoming a great stuntman. Towards the end, things seem to fall apart for Harold when his parents sell their home and he realizes he has to move out of their basement. To make matters worse, Harold discovers that his videos are being used as comic material for the basic cable channel's variety comedy show. It is here, at his lowest, when Harold is at his lowest, that he meets his hero, The Human Cannonball, played by Dan Castellaneta. The Cannonball urges Harold not to give up on his dreams and to keep going no matter what or even if everyone thinks he's a joke.
Stokes managed to capture something two things with this movie, first the utter need of people like those on the Jackass show to have attention, even if they must hurt themselves to get it. The second, and probably the more profound thing that he addresses is the idea that despite the unrealistic dreams that some people may have, you have to respect and even love the people who still try. Stokes innately understands that there's something just so heroic about these people, that many of us (i.e. the viewer) all just wants to root for them to succeed, because you never know, they might just do it. With that said, one can't help but root for Harold, even though we all know he's an idiot.
As you watch this movie, one can't help but think of the legend of film director Ed Wood, who also had very little skill, but had a lot of will and dreams of making great movies, even though he failed badly most of the time.
The film itself has a wonderful amateur feel. In the scenes where Harold is filming his stunts and his video diary, the video camera is often out of focus and sometimes doesn't get the full shot, which adds perfectly to the sense that the characters in this movie really don't know what they're doing. Also, having the characters using an old-school VHS camera in 2003 - a time when many people were switching to digital recorders - showed that they're were still locked into the world of their childhood imaginings without realizing that the rest of the world had moved on past them.
In some ways, this film is a fun where-are-they now retrospective. John Hawks who played Harold has gone on to become an award winning actor for his work on the show Deadwood and the movie The Seasons as well as an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor in the movie The Winter's Bone. Anita Barone herself has enjoyed a great amount of success for her roles in Desperate Housewives and Curb Your Enthusiasm. Director Stokes decided to re-release this year with enhanced picture and sound this year, even though it's been available online for years. Then again, Harold promised in the climax of the film that he would return with a big comeback one day and here it is.
If you didn't take the leap with Harold Buttleman: Daredevil Stuntman, now's your chance. You'll be glad you did.
Overall grade: A