Lionel Macomb is the king of conservative talk radio. By shouting outlandish opinions and wildly distorting facts on hot button, right-wing issues, Lionel has made himself an empire. For 20 years he has slept on a mattress stuffed with cash but now a former protege, Whitley, is threatening his domain by presenting himself as a kinder, gentler (read: religious) right-wing alternative.
Lionel (Steve Coogan) isn’t exactly going to just let Whitley (Skylar Astin) walk away with a piece of the pie, but he’s been losing ground steadily and suddenly even his long-standing feud a Senator he dismissively refers to as “The Hyphen” (Judith Light) isn’t as fun anymore. It’s a terrible time for his life to be disrupted but it wouldn’t be much of a movie if it wasn’t. In waltzes a long-lost relation he never knew he had, 16 year old Tess (Taylor Russell). Tess challenges him and pushes his buttons, which doesn’t exactly ingratiate her to him. In fact, the only reason she’s allowed to stick around at all is an intervention by girlfriend Val (inexplicably, Neve Campbell), who is notably not as asshole but bewilderingly in love with one.
I love Steve Coogan and would happily watch him in anything. This role is great for him, caustic, wordy, with a ranty-ragey charisma. But then the script fails him. Tess arrives on the scene to humanize him, and while she does provide context, there’s not a lot of growth. It’s like writer Will Reichel forgot why movies exist. Maybe (and I’m being generous here) the point is that conservative “personalities” lack the basic human ability to change. Certainly a lack of soul is an asset to a career in punditry. But then why introduce Tess at all if he’s going to refuse to learn from her? It makes for a frustrating end because there’s no real redemption, and you get there only to realize that there’s also been very little on the journey there. Lionel Macomb is a talking head, a very good one thanks to Coogan, but a whole bunch of people spent a whole a bunch of money on this movie and nobody thought to ask: is there a point to this? Shouldn’t there be?