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Late Night with the Devil movie review (2024)

The prologue also strikes me as a mistake because it frames the rest of the movie as a thing that you have to get through in order to arrive at the ending you already know is coming based on the prologue, whereas simply showing us the broadcast itself (as sort of an mysterious object or artifact) would have thrown audiences into the deep end of the pool and created a sense of mystery throughout, while all the same plot points were being communicated organically, within the context of the broadcast (people talk to Jack on the air about what’s happened in the years leading up to this disaster, and it’s very well done; it sounds like what people on a TV show would actually say to somebody in his situation). There are also some “backstage” moments, seemingly shot on the fly by the network cameramen onstage, that invite the question of why not one but two cameramen decided to go documentary rogue on this event, and how the footage ended up being edited together with the bits that were originally intended for broadcast. Did somebody cut it all together in the style of a dramatic feature film, then hide that master tape in the “CURSED OBJECT/DO NOT OPEN” vault?

The found footage stylistic tics and other signifiers of “realism” raise the question of why anybody in the studio audience stuck around after one of the guests projectile-vomited what looks like the sentient black goo from the “Venom” movies. Yes, it’s true, Hitchcock derided people like me as “The Plausibles,” but even Hitch knew that a movie full of holes had to be cooking to make people turn off their nitpicker brains, and this one rarely rises above a simmer.  

Dastmalchian is quite good as Jack, especially in moments of vulnerability and self-delusion, but I don’t quite see the starmaking performance here that some of my colleagues have noted, mainly because I didn’t find him plausible as a guy who rose to national prominence on the late night talk show circuit on the basis of being hilarious. He reads monologue jokes and desk banter that’s supposed to be hilarious, and we hear the audience roaring, but that’s the movie telling you that he’s funny, which isn’t the same thing as him actually being funny; the audience laughed at Robert DeNiro’s jokes in “Joker,” too, and for all his chameleonic acting genius, DeNiro was about as funny as a potato in that role. Which is another way of saying that the performance succeeds as drama but doesn’t work in a way that sells the core idea that somebody believed in this guy as a young Turk who could unseat Johnny Carson.  

Still, there’s no questioning the originality of the idea and the vibe, whether you think the film pulls it all off in totality. I would happily pore over a large-format coffee-table book of freeze-frames from this movie. It’s richly imagined, and you can tell everyone had fun immersing themselves in this strange and often disturbing world. It doesn’t quite look like 1977, especially the unfortunate use of AI-generated interstitial and background art, which pretty much screams “tech bro fads of the 21st Century.” (What, they couldn’t have hired one of their starving graphic artist friends for the cost of a few vintage wide-lapeled shirts?) But the movie for-sure says “the ’70s” in a general way, particularly cinematographer Matthew Temple’s lighting (though some of the camera moves are distractingly post-“Goodfellas” Scorsese); the “Sunday afternoon at TGI Friday’s” clothes on the audience members (by costumer Steph Hooke); and the typeface used for the show’s credits (the production designer is Otello Stolfo). 

And there’s a grimy, acquisitive aura embalming the whole thing that I vividly recall from my own ’70s childhood, sitting on my parents’ living room rug watching sweaty people with shaggy hair chain-smoking on talk programs, reporters going “undercover” in brothels and shooting galleries on local newscasts, and contestants throwing gross innuendos at each other on game shows. You can imagine Satan looking at TV in the ’70s and calling his agent.

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