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By Richard von Busack September 14, 2016

Decades after his heyday, Jerry Lewis is still a dreadful and awesome figure overshadowing comedy. Lewis has a vast wavelength: sometimes he's great, and when he's bad, he's even greater. Daniel Noah's 2013 indie movie Max Rose—was it released or did it escape?—gives Lewis a well-deserved part. If the movie is tripe, Lewis fills a lot of ruminative closeups. It gives him a chance to dwell in a favorite realm, the world of hurt, betrayal and rancor. As his son, San Jose-raised actor Kevin Pollak stands up to verbal abuse by standing up to Lewis's obscene wrath. I don't know if I've ever seen him better.

The elderly Max Rose (Lewis) just buried his wife of 65 years—the funeral is shot from a POV of about 100 yards back, deliberately robbing Jerry of a big moment of self-castigating oration about his failures as a husband. In moments like this, Noah is determined to make this drama artistic, as if to cool down Lewis' wetter qualities; the colors are brightened to the point of a neon city in a film noir.

At home, Max discovers a piece of inscribed jewelry given to his wife by an admirer some 60 years previously. After questioning the ghost of the wife (Claire Bloom) Max finally has a breakdown and is sent to assisted living. There, one of his cronies (Lee Weaver) conveniently has the missing bit of info that can connect this aggrieved widower to the man who tried to steal his wife.

The lover is played by a sinister Dean Stockwell, as if he were Clare Quilty in Lolita. Max's grown-up granddaughter Annie (Kerry Bishe) is loyal enough for 10 women, and her sentiment gives this film a large, sticky heart—what if, indeed, Max had been as bad a husband as he claimed he was when he was trying to upstage the corpse at a funeral? The way Annie, as well as Max's other grandkids, respond is Lewis' way of exculpating himself: he accuses himself of terrible wrongs and then gets a jury of children to find him innocent. In his 90s, he's still in possession of not only his marbles, but everyone else's; the movie is in this narrow sense a triumph for Lewis.

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