‘HAROLD BUTTLEMAN: DAREDEVIL STUNTMAN’ is the story of a man, and his dreams of entertaining the world with his death-defying stunts. This film is from 2003, it has been re-scanned from 35mm, and is now available On Demand. John Hawkes stars in this one and delivers an energized performance as a tuxedo salesman who is trying to be the next Evil Knievel. Much to the chagrin of his girlfriend played by Anita Barone, and his parents who simply want him to move out of their basement.
If you enjoy quirky, offbeat comedy there is certainly some fun to be found in this story. It’s a simple premise. A man with dreams of a greater life outside his small town, and the consequences that result from his determination to succeed. Harold is a normal guy that is admittedly bumbling, and overly naive. But he has aspirations, and his relenting determination to pursue his goals is surprisingly inspiring to watch. John Hawkes is an extremely underrated actor, and he embodied this character to effective results. He was charming, very charismatic, and despite his characters shortcomings, he created a likable persona you can connect with, and want to see succeed.
The story-line was entertaining and it delivers a range of comedic material. Watching Harold perform these stunt that were not exactly death-defying was comical in itself. Rolling down a hill in a tire, making small jumps in a car, or riding a bike through a ring of (I guess you could say fire) are not exactly equal to shooting yourself from a cannon. But with the spirit Harold shows you still can’t help but root for him. The dialogue was solid, it did create some natural laughs and the story provides some fun characters to keep things fresh without forcing the laughs.
Some of the story-arcs are generic. Such as the parents wanting him to move from his basement, and his girlfriend wanting him to grow up and forget his childish dreams. It also had some routine character dynamics such as the best-friend conflict, and the ‘other woman’ who believes in Harold when his lady doesn’t. As well as the parents at their wit’s end with a middle-aged son who doesn’t seem to be on a path to maturity. But despite the similarities they still play out in this story-line to an enjoyable result with some unique elements added here-and-there.
There are some pacing issue however. The story progression would slow at times and seemed to circle itself. I think the film would have benefited if it went harder on the comedic angle, and not taken itself as serious as it did at times. The laughs do hit, but they were not as frequent as I would have hoped. With this premise I felt there could have been a deeper dive into the world of him being a stuntman, and less time spent on relationships dynamics that felt familiar and mildly predictable.
Overall though I had fun with this movie. I enjoyed the direction from Francis Stokes. He went with a homemade approach which gave the film a strong documentary vibe that added a grounded element to the story. It’s honestly worth a watch simply to see an early performance from John Hawkes who felt perfect for this role. He portrayed a natural sense-of-humor without forcing any of the comical beats. Hawkes as Buttleman was funny because of who was, not because he was trying to make you laugh.