Troy Patterson
June 02, 2000 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Watching the Andy Kaufman biopic Man on the Moon on video — the movie shrunk to Kaufmanesque scale — I started to regard it as an organic tribute to its subject. Kaufman strove to jar, bewilder, and annoy his audiences, and director Milos Forman scores on each count. Guided by screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, Forman doesn’t examine Kaufman as an artist or explore him as a man: He genuflects to a prankster ordained the King of (Conceptual) Comedy for such ”subversive” work as caricaturing the vulgarity of lounge acts and constructing hoaxes to mock the artifice of pro wrestling.

Forman strings together a wisp of narrative from biographical details — Andy charms his agent, Andy hates his sitcom, Andy gets inspired while whoremongering — and decorates it with reconstituted stunts. For those who don’t cherish Kaufman’s nonsensical performance art (the Saturday Night Live Mighty Mouse bit, the Taxi dispatches…), the film’s greatest pleasure derives from the thrilling glee Jim Carey takes in impersonating his hero, and even that joy is tainted. If Moon is any indication, Kaufman came to be revered as the patron saint of goofballs because he achieved the puerile fantasy of using the audience to amuse himself. C

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