The brief trajectory of Bill Hicks is a saga that has only grown larger since his death from cancer in 1994, with the comedian's brainily profane, take-no-prisoners approach attracting a fervent cult of admirers. For those fans, this loving film will serve as a further confirmation of Hicks's often blistering talents. Those on the outside, however, may find this an unsatisfactory entry point. As a documentary, it tends to tell, rather than show. Using an animated photo collage that recalls The Kid Stays in the Picture
, codirectors Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas have assembled a legion of family, friends, and fellow performers to wax rhapsodic about Hicks's turbulent life and times, ranging from his early success as a teenage performer, his struggles with drugs and alcohol, periodic brushes with stardom, and his final defiant rants against the establishment before succumbing to pancreatic cancer at the age of 32. While the passion of the filmmakers and participants is without question (particularly on the extended interviews included in the extra features), the performances shown unfortunately often fail to live up to the buildup, with such hallmarks as his famously scuttled last David Letterman appearance nowhere to be seen. The clips that are present, meanwhile, tend to favor the comedian's angrily self-righteous rants, rather than his more accessible--and often riotously filthy--comedy routines. Those already among the converted will find this reverent look back essential, but newcomers to Hicks's material may have some trouble seeing what the fuss is about.--Andrew Wright
American: The Bill Hicks Story brings to life the amazing true story of one of modern culture’s most iconic figures. Much more than just a comedian, Bill Hicks has become an inspiration to millions around the world. As a rebellious teenager, he discovered that comedy was a way to break all the rules, but then he found it could also open people’s minds. Bill’s comedy challenged the injustices of life head on, but his uncompromising approach met with conflict in America and it was instead on the international stage where he found fame. In 1993, on the verge of wider success, Bill fell ill with terminal cancer, but his timeless material has lived on, revered by comedians and audiences alike as the man who changed comedy forever. Taking documentary to a new level, American uses interviews, archive footage including many unseen performances, and stunning animation to bring Bill’s inspiring story to life, told for the first time by those that knew him best.