'Clear History' Review: Enthusiasm, Uncurbed

The surprising performances of Larry David's costars make the HBO film worth watching.

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At first it's hard to recognize Larry David, star of the HBO film "Clear History," underneath the scraggly mop of hair and frizzy beard he dons at the beginning of the movie.

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But everything else about the comedy is instantly familiar of David's particular brand of humor – the neuroses, the zaniness, the unceasing sense of, "Are you kidding me?"He ditches the coif pretty quickly, and "Clear History" might as well be a feature-length episode of "Curb Your Enthusiasm." But allowed to lag a full hour and 40 minutes, it doesn't work quite as well.

David plays a character one shade apart from the caricature of himself he plays on "Curb." Nathan Flomm is anal, trite, and self-centered – the type of guy who wishes electrical outlets were installed at eye level, who can't stand when silverware is placed directly on a table rather than on a napkin and who will openly criticize someone for only washing her hair once a week.

Not surprisingly, he is also the type a guy who would walk away from a Silicon Valley start-up company – just as it's about to make it big – over a beef with the name of its chief product. The company does make it big, and Nathan moves to Martha's Vineyard to escape the shame of burning the bridge that could have made him millions. There, he reinvents himself as "Rolly," though not really, since he's still just as anal, trite and self-centered. Years later, whatever peace his made with his decision to leave the company is disrupted when his old business partner (Jon Hamm) – now filthy rich – builds a mansion on the Vineyard.

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Anecdotally, "Clear History" is often very funny, with Nathan/Rolly often getting himself into the laughably frustrating situations that were a constant on "Curb" (and for his proxies in "Seinfeld."). However as a full-length film, it gets a little tiring. All the odds and ends wrap up as ironically as they do in an episode of "Curb Your Enthusiasm." However, 100 minutes in, you're more than ready for them to do so.

Making "Clear History" worth watching is the A-list talent it attracts, who, unlike David, play very much against their type. Michael Keaton does a pyrotechnic mad man surprisingly well. Liev Schreiber, a usually very serious actor, is hilarious as a Chechen black market explosives dealer. The gorgeous Eva Mendes is completely believable as formerly obese women only beginning to realize her newly-gained good looks. Even Kate Hudson, as Nathan's love interest, is game to play the straight man against David's antics.

If you're a fan of David's stubborn humor, "Clear History" will please you, but will take a little patience. If you're not, it will drive you up a wall. If you're not sure, you're better toeing the water with some smaller, episodic doses of David first.

'Clear History' premieres at 9 p.m., Saturday, August 10.

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