Despite the extensive involvement of Jerry Seinfeld, the documentary Comedian (on disc May 13) feels surprisingly unlike a vanity project. One of its more telling snapshots of the stand-up life is a scene in an N.Y.C. comedy club where Seinfeld, trying to iron out some new material in front of the crowd, draws a blank. The former sitcom star spends at least 60 awkward seconds choking, live and uncut, without Kramer's wacky antics or George's nebbishy shtick to pull his ass out of the fire. What also gives this documentary depth is its dual focus: Besides Seinfeld, Comedian follows a supposedly up-and-coming young comic named Orny Adams, whose hotshot attitude and delusions of grandeur reflect the long odds against a wanna-be comedian in the most fickle profession on earth.
The single-disc set also offers a half-dozen extras that get farther behind the scenes of an already revealing film. Some of the bonus features are greatincluding the jokey trailer, one of the best of 2002; and an update on the arrogant, prickly Adams that actually manages to humanize him. Others just take up space (do we need to pore over Seinfeld's illegible preshow notes?).
In the end, Comedian's highest achievement is its painstaking dissection of live club comedy. As you watch Seinfeld work up a sweat night after night just trying to make people laugh, stand-up begins to seem like something truly essential. With a sparkling jazz soundtrack, this beautifully edited doc does justice to the ancient art of making milk spew out someone's nose.
Moving to another part of the anatomy, Rob Schneider pretends he's living in a nubile teen girl's body in The Hot Chick (May 13). On the same date, Christian Bale and Taye Diggs go back to the future in Equilibrium. Also, Roland Joffé's 1986 The Mission is being treated to a two-disc special-edition package (he supplies the commentary; De Niro and Irons were probably busy doing something more . . . oh, never mind). Pegged to the current jingoism, Ronald Reagan's 1957 Hellcats of the Navy is now on DVD. For those at the other end of the political spectrum, the worthwhile documentary Life + Debt takes an unsparing look at the endemic poverty of postcolonial Jamaica.