CONAN O’BRIEN CAN’T STOP (Rodman Flender) Rating: NNNNN
When NBC bought Conan O'Brien out of his Tonight Show contract after giving the 11:30 pm slot back to Jay Leno, the deal prevented O'Brien from appearing on TV, radio or the Internet for a six-month period.
So O'Brien launched a live tour, playing 32 cities in 44 days, and his college pal Rodman Flender - director of the horror comedies Leprechaun 2 and Idle Hands - tagged along with a camera.
The result is Conan O'Brien Can't Stop, the most purely entertaining documentary I've seen all year as well as a surprisingly acute study of a celebrity in free fall. We now know the Legally Prohibited From Being Funny On Television tour was a success, but it was a huge gamble at the time. The shows sold out well before O'Brien and his creative team had the slightest idea what they'd be doing, and the weight of that uncertainty is visible on O'Brien's face throughout.
An irrepressible performer and compulsive glad-hander - he's terrified of alienating his fan base to the point of never refusing anyone a photo or autograph, even when he's clearly on the verge of collapse - O'Brien is totally honest whether onstage or off-, copping to fits of rage over being bounced from his dream job and engaging in endless passive-aggressive sniping with his staff. (His barbed exchanges with his endlessly patient assistant, Sona Movsesian, have the snap of a 30s screwball comedy.)
The shows themselves are tremendous fun, and Flender crams so much backstage detail into the doc that we're swept up in the whirlwind of manic action along with everyone else. By the time O'Brien stops in at Harvard for his 25-year class reunion - where he kills time before a talent show with an impromptu green-room jam session - you'll be as breathless and excited as he is to see what happens next.