Don’t get too excited about the prospect of Steve Coogan playing an American right-wing radio host. The British actor’s comic wings are clipped in this sincere but unwieldy film about a abrasive radio personality whose heretofore-unknown African-American teenage niece shows up at his fancy New York City apartment.
Tess (Taylor Russell) has left home after her mother returned to rehab, and while the by-the-bootstraps blowhard Lionel Macomb (Coogan) doesn’t believe in handouts or charity or even kindness, he reluctantly lets her stay. His publicist and girlfriend Valerie (Neve Campbell) is nicer to the girl, and soon, points of view are being challenged and upsetting family memories are being unearthed.
Directed by Frank Coraci, the film feints at comedy with background gags and an occasional broad performance or two, but it’s primarily a dramatic story — and not a focused one at that. As uncle and niece learn more about one another, Lionel faces competition from a former employee who has adopted a sunnier, blander variation on the conservative loudmouth persona.
The movie seems afraid to follow through on any one emotional through line, and instead throws a whole bunch together. The script, by Will Reichel, jumps between Tess and Lionel’s challenges without ever entirely convincing us that their fates are connected. We feel like we’re watching two very different movies, neither of which is particularly engaging.
Amid the tiresome speeches about the American dream and tearful reconciliations, Coogan gets some big scenes, but anyone familiar with what this actor is capable of may wonder why he was cast in the first place.
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 39 minutes.