American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Comedy is the most fragile flower of show business, the one that wilts with the slightest change in the weather. Tommy Fawkes knows that better than most. He must once have been funny; how else could he have won a booking in Vegas? But can he be funny on his opening night, with his father sitting in his audience - his father, the world-famous comic? He's going to die. He knows he is. Not just die on stage. Die dead.
Tommy is played by Oliver Platt, a burly young actor who has played Paul Bunyan and one of the three musketeers. This time, stripped of beards and broadswords, he emerges as a worrier, a deep thinker, a kid who has made the worst possible decision by following in his father's footsteps.
His dad, you see, is naturally funny. "Some people just have funny bones," the old man explains. "We didn't have to tell funny stories; we were funny." It doesn't help that old George (Jerry Lewis) is still a scene-stealer who subtly draws attention to himself in the Vegas crowd and then "allows" himself to be coaxed onstage, where he tells one of the same jokes that poor Tommy tries later.
Tommy bombs. Badly. So badly that he walks offstage and out of the hotel and escapes to Blackpool, a British seaside resort known as a cradle of vaudeville. His father comes from there, and Tommy was born there before being brought to America. Maybe if he returns to his roots he can find his funny bones.