'Why Stop Now' review: An Oscar winner, an Oscar nominee and Tracy Morgan?

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'Why Stop Now?'

'Why Stop Now?' (August 13, 2012)

**1/2 (out of four)

Tracy Morgan’s such a ridiculous caricature of a human being on “30 Rock” and in interviews that it’s always great to see him actually acting. And acting like a semi-normal person.

He was serious in last year’s forgettable drama “Son of No One” and impresses again in the better “Why Stop Now,” which co-stars the comedian as a drug dealer named Sprinkles. Don’t laugh; the character means business, even though he’s a sad man who lives with his mother and still laments wasting his potential as a runner. Promising pianist Eli (Jesse Eisenberg, Oscar-nominated for "The Social Network") has probably never met a dealer in his life, despite his mother Penny’s (Melissa Leo, Oscar winner for "The Fighter") addiction. Yet Eli winds up translating for Sprinkles during a meeting with a Spanish-speaking, drug-moving superior. It’s all so Penny can get high once more and get into rehab. Then Eli can audition for a prestigious music conservatory and perhaps break from a life in which he must take care of both his mom and his 9-year-old half-sister (Emma Rayne Lyle), who confronts her own problems through a foul-mouthed hand puppet.

At times the largely underwritten “Why Stop Now” becomes no more than the Sundance-style indie it sounds like. Writers/directors Phil Dorling and Ron Nyswaner, while resisting a broad farce, let the drug dealer subplot fizzle out to nothing and offer a softened, simplistic take on addiction as mild comedy gets in the way of drama. Yet this offbeat amuser recognizes that there’s more to education and success than pure ability. It’s fast-paced and driven by Eisenberg (“30 Minutes or Less,” “Zombieland”), again finding varying dimensions in a twitchy character that isn’t a repeat of his past roles. Proper casting is different from typecasting, and Eisenberg is both funny and relatable as Eli, who while trying to spend time with a former classmate (Sarah Ramos of “Parenthood”) also scrambles to settle family business so he can commit to his own.

Even Sprinkles can understand Eli’s effort to quiet all the noise and just let his fingers run. And, unlike this year’s foolish Lebanese dramedy “Where Do We Go Now?,” it’s appreciated that “Why Stop Now” poses a question and actually offers an answer.

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com. @mattpais

 

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