Tour de Phar­macy runs its com­edy cy­cle too quickly

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&E - RICK BENTLEY Tri­bune News Ser­vice

Ex­cept for the huge num­ber of big name per­form­ers and the graphic nu­dity, the HBO sports mock­u­men­tary “Tour de Phar­macy,” de­but­ing July 8, comes across as lit­tle more than a good “Satur­day Night Live” sketch. Not great. Just good. The jabs taken at dop­ing in the sport of cy­cling are gen­er­ally funny but, just like an “SNL” sketch that has run too long, the ma­te­rial feels thin by the end.

“Tour de Phar­macy” looks at 1982 when what is be­ing called — by writer Mur­ray Miller (“Girls”) and no one else — the big­gest year in cheat­ing in cy­cling his­tory un­folded at the Tour de France. There was so much cheat­ing that af­ter the first day, only five rid­ers re­mained.

Di­rec­tor Jake Syz­man­ski (who has directed mul­ti­ple episodes of “Satur­day Night Live”) uses a doc­u­men­tary style to fol­low the small group of rid­ers as they spend weeks rac­ing across the Euro­pean coun­try­side. Footage of the race, which was sup­posed to have been shot by a BBC crew with James Marsden play­ing the re­porter who cov­ers the en­tire event, re­veals the ab­sur­di­ties that un­fold along the way. Th­ese el­e­ments are played out by the cast­ing of some very im­pres­sive names in­clud­ing Kevin Ba­con, Fred­die High­more, Ju­lia Or­mand, Jeff Gold­blum, Andy Sam­berg (who also ex­ec­u­tive pro­duced), John Cena, Dolph Lund­gren, Daveed Diggs, Danny Glover and Maya Ru­dolph.

The cast­ing is the most interesting part of the pro­duc­tion as dif­fer­ent ac­tors play the rid­ers in 1982 and to­day. Sam­berg and Gold­blum both play the first African cy­clist to en­ter the Tour de France. Al­though rep­re­sent­ing the con­ti­nent for the first time, the en­try is not pop­u­lar back home as his con­nec­tion to Africa is through his fa­ther’s work with a blood di­a­mond mine. Diggs and Glover play the same rel­a­tive of Jackie Robin­son who’s con­vinced win­ning the Tour de France will eclipse Robin­son’s his­tory-mak­ing days in ma­jor league base­ball.

The weird­est cast­ing is hav­ing High­more and Or­mand play the same cy­clist. Be­cause

women weren’t al­lowed to com­pete in the race, the fe­male cy­clist had to pre­tend to be a man. High­more plays a fe­male in dis­guise camp­ing it up with a pen­cil-thin mous­tache and an overly ag­gres­sive re­ac­tion to women.

Miller’s script is id­i­otic and silly but does have the kind of slight ring of truth that mock­u­men­taries need to make the genre work. Syz­man­ski helps by fill­ing the story with well-known sports fig­ures in­clud­ing sports­caster Joe Buck, cy­cling lover turned boxer Mike Tyson and Lance Arm­strong.

The in­clu­sion of Arm­strong adds a sur­real el­e­ment to the pro­duc­tion as his seven vic­to­ries at the Tour de France were marred by a dop­ing scan­dal. His role in the mock­u­men­tary is as a “se­cret” source who is sup­posed to only be shown in shad­ows and with a dis­torted voice. One of the pro­duc­tion’s least orig­i­nal ideas has lights pop­ping on to show Arm­strong’s face.

This is the sec­ond col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween Sam­berg and Miller to cre­ate a project for HBO. Their 2015 mock­u­men­tary, “7 Days in Hell,” fol­lowed a fa­mous (fake) ten­nis match that lasted seven days. (“7 Days in Hell” airs fol­low­ing “Tour de Phar­macy.”) “Tour de Phar­macy” got some help from hav­ing more cen­tral play­ers to share the com­edy load.

The best mock­u­men­taries, such as the Bri­tish ver­sion of “The Of­fice,” fea­tured smart writ­ing from start to fin­ish. They never had to re­sort to the kind of im­ma­ture hu­mour that pops up in “Tour de Phar­macy” when the story seems to have slipped its chain. Show­ing a naked man be­ing spun around in the air is good for a gig­gle but is more of a sign of lazy writ­ing than try­ing to be orig­i­nal. More con­sis­tency would have made “Tour de Phar­macy” a mock­u­men­tary to lead the pack rather than be­ing stuck in a pelo­ton of mid­dle-of-the-road pro­duc­tions.

JOHN P. JOHN­SON, HBO

Daveed Diggs, Or­lando Bloom, Andy Sam­berg, John Cena and Fred­die High­more in HBO’s cy­cling mock­u­men­tary "Tour de Phar­macy."

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