American: The Bill Hicks Story

Rated 3.0

Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas’ well-meaning documentary American: The Bill Hicks Story commits the same sins as many other similarly well-meaning Lenny Bruce documentaries. It strives so hard to place the brilliant, troubled, dead-too-soon comedian in a frame of social “importance” that it makes him seem less funny than he actually was. Hicks died of symptoms related to pancreatic and liver cancer in 1994, just as it seemed that Clinton-era America was ready to embrace his combative, anti-establishment form of comedy. A pet project of Hicks’ friends and family, American works best as a highly personal testimonial to his life in comedy, which started at age 17 when he lied his way onstage at a Houston club. More questionable is the filmmakers’ decision to fashion their amazing access to a wealth of Bill Hicks archival material into this Kid Stays in the Picture-lite graphic-design mush.