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IN PURSUIT OF CRAZINESS

FILM
'Man on the Moon' promises an avalanche of Andy Kaufman-esque shtick
Andy Kaufman's life was comedy. On "Taxi," he played the nutty mechanic Latka Gravis. On his first "Saturday Night Live" appearance, he startled the audience by standing mute before a phonograph for what seemed like forever -- and then ending his silence by mouthing a line from "Mighty Mouse." (The crowd went wild.)

Even more impressive, though, was the way laughter followed Kaufman off-screen as well. Much of his everyday existence was devoted to the pursuit of craziness. A long reminiscence about Kaufman in a recent issue of "The New Yorker" tells how the comic and a friend once picked a fight in a coffeehouse, creating havoc among the customers. And Elvis Presley himself said that of all his impersonators, Kaufman was the best.

Kaufman was 35 when, in 1984, he died of lung cancer. Needless to say, though, a personality like his does not go gentle into that good night. He's far from forgotten -- and now, in a strange way, he's back.

That's because Jim Carrey is playing him in "Man on the Moon," the new movie about Kaufman's life and looniness. During the filming, Carrey, for all intents and purposes, "became" Kaufman. Danny DeVito, who starred with the real Kaufman in "Taxi," told the press a couple of months ago about how Carrey showed up on the set driving an ice cream truck, offering people free ice cream if they'd sing him a song. The movie, by all accounts, overflows with just such Kaufman-style shtick.

Whether "Man on the Moon" turns out to be a fitting tribute to Kaufman or simply a long, gratuitous chance for Carrey to ape the famous funny man remains to be seen. We'll find out this weekend, when "Man in the Moon" opens in area theaters.

-- Mary Kunz

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