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MOVIE REVIEW: O'Brien 'can't stop' whining in behind-the-scenes documentary

Special Photo: IFC. Conan O'Brien appears in a scene from the documentary "Conan O'Brien Can't Stop."

Special Photo: IFC. Conan O'Brien appears in a scene from the documentary "Conan O'Brien Can't Stop."

Conan O'Brien Can't Stop (R)

1 1/2 stars out of 4

Like most comics, Conan O'Brien has many fervent supporters and an equal number of detractors. If you know who he is and are familiar with his style and schtick, you either love him or you don't. O'Brien and those like him (David Letterman, Craig Ferguson) actually prefer you to feel strongly about them one way or the other. They'd rather you hate them than feel indifferent.

Whatever one's opinion of O'Brien as a comic talent might be, few would initially think that he was treated fairly regarding his short-lived stint as host of "The Tonight Show." If you watch or follow late night TV or the entertainment industry in general you already know the messy details regarding the O'Brien/NBC situation. If you don't and are interested in finding out more, you'll have to keep looking. Very little of what's found in "Conan O'Brien Can't Stop" sheds any kind of light on it but it is very illuminating in a way O'Brien probably hadn't intended.

Starting out with immense promise, "Can't Stop" soon squanders a golden opportunity to delve into one of the most freakishly bizarre events in TV history. But rather than explore what happened between O'Brien and NBC, he and director Rodman Flender essentially ignore it and turn the film into a tired, behind-the-scenes concert documentary.

O'Brien's sold-out, 32-date "Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television" tour consisted of blue stand-up material (none of which is shown), song-and-dance parodies of other artists' road songs (shown too much) and O'Brien interacting with his staff and diehard fans (something that gets old almost immediately).

The title is meant to drive home -- with sledgehammer-like finesse -- the point that O'Brien is a tireless professional who must perform. "Must" meaning if he doesn't continue hamming it up in front of someone somewhere at all times he'll shrivel up and blow away.

The title more fits O'Brien's mindset regarding the NBC debacle. He just "can't stop" dwelling on it, whining about it and taking it out on everyone he knows. For a guy who received a $32.5 million buyout on his contract and was hired almost immediately by another network (TBS), O'Brien can't seem to grasp that he has it better than almost anyone on the planet.

Unlike George Carlin, Lenny Bruce or the '90s-era Dennis Miller, O'Brien isn't at all funny when he rants, and his myopic, won't-let-it-go posture on just one issue -- one that in reality only affects him -- is tiresome and more than a little off-putting. Long before the end of the movie, you stop feeling sorry for him and begin to pity the people who have to live and work with him for they are the ones who truly suffer.

After watching the movie one can maybe understand why O'Brien and Flender chose not to go into too much detail regarding the NBC fiasco. Or maybe they simply didn't want it out there for public consumption -- at least the true version. If O'Brien behaved in boardroom situations the way he does in the film, it's easy to see why NBC might have jettisoned him. The only thing O'Brien accomplishes with this movie is making it clear that Charlie Sheen isn't the only freshly fired, recently touring, angry-at-the-world, overpaid egomaniac who is no longer on network TV. (IFC)