I'm not a big fan of critics hoping for a different film other than the one that's being flashed on screen in front of them. That said, I can't help but wonder how Don't Worry He Won't Get Far on Foot might have turned out if the late Robin Williams had portrayed its central manic genius, cartoonist John Callahan. Originally, Williams had optioned the autobiography of the same name by the politically incorrect Callahan. Back in the 1990s, Williams even invited director Gus Van Sant to adapt the book in hopes of bringing it to the screen.
Van Sant finally took up the project but, alas, it was last year—three years after Williams' untimely death. Van Sant cast Joaquin Phoenix to portray Callahan. Now, I take a back seat to no one in my admiration for Phoenix's acting chops (The Master, Walk the Line, Her and Phoenix's breakout performance in Van Sant's own To Die For come to mind). But it pains me to report that there's too much that just doesn't ring true with Don't Worry, beginning with the 43-year-old Phoenix's portrayal of a 21-year-old Callahan. The best wig masters in Hollywood can't cover up that huge distraction.
Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot is not only the title of the autobiography and film. It was also the caption below one of Callahan's more famous cartoons, showing an old-west sheriff staring at an empty wheelchair. For the record, Callahan was a quadriplegic as the result of a drunk driving incident. That said, some thought he was incredibly rude for his sendups on disabilities, race and sexual orientation. His critics would routinely lead boycotts against the Willamette Week, where much of Callahan's work appeared for nearly three decades. But most people didn't know Callahan's softer side, including how he pursued a master's degree in counseling at Portland State University. He was unable to finish because of his deteriorating health.
Jack Black, Jonah Hill and Rooney Mara round out an extremely impressive list of co-stars, but I'm hard-pressed to recommend Don't Worry He Won't Get Far on Foot. It could have been so, so, so much better.