- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 18, 2008

It’s hard to figure out just what Dane Cook’s deal is.

His onstage appeal seems to be unlimited … at least to a certain slice of the population. You would be hard-pressed to find a college campus where Mr. Cook’s standup act wouldn’t kill.

On-screen, however, things are far trickier. He hasn’t starred in many feature films, but they all have one thing in common: Each one flopped.

There was “Employee of the Month,” the Jessica Simpson vehicle that played for a minute in theaters before hitting DVD bargain bins. There was “Good Luck Chuck,” the Jessica Alba showcase, which fared slightly better. Next came his foray into drama - a surprising semiserious turn in “Mr. Brooks,” the Kevin Costner film that did no better than either of the movies with the two Jessicas.

Mr. Cook isn’t discouraged, however. His new film, “My Best Friend’s Girl,” hits theaters Friday. Self-produced by the reigning hero of the frat-comedy scene, “My Best Friend’s Girl” wasn’t screened for critics - so let’s let the star himself tell you how good it is.

“This is the first film that captures my essence,” Mr. Cook says. “It’s the first film I produced, so I had a lot of say in the characters, and where in Boston would serve as the best locations and possibilities. It’s the first thing I’ve done, as a whole, that represents my strengths as an actor.”

Mr. Cook, you see, thinks that he has been underused thus far in his on-screen adventures.

“It’s very different from past comedies I’ve starred in,” the comedian-actor says. “The funny was happening around me; whereas this … is the first time the funny is coming from me.”

It can be hard to determine where exactly the funny comes from with regard to Mr. Cook.

So … where does it come from?

“Why are you doing a story on Dane Cook?” retorts Jay Hastings, an “amusement engineer” at the DC Improv and clearly no fan of our humble jokester.

“Comedy is such a subjective art form,” Mr. Hastings continues. “I mean, it could be his jokes, his material, that sort of thing.”

Or?

“Or it could be a bandwagon situation, where one guy in college really likes an act, so everyone does. That sort of environment breeds sensationalism, and Dane Cook is definitely a sensation.”

That much certainly is true. Mr. Cook has starred in multiple cable specials, even landing his own HBO stand-up series in 2006. Perhaps the artist himself could shed some light on the situation.

“My ideas are very fantastical,” he says.

“I’m saying things that are lingering in the darker parts of the observational part of the brain. I’m not afraid to be self-deprecating.”

Self-deprecation aside, one wonders just how serious Mr. Cook’s ambitions are.

The answer? Quite serious, indeed.

“I like when someone labels you because then it’s like, ‘Oh really? Watch this,’” Mr. Cook says.

Like Orson Welles, he loves being challenged to stretch himself artistically. “I’m not the same guy I was a couple of years ago,” he notes.

Fair enough. And, to be totally honest, his turn in “Mr. Brooks” wasn’t half bad - even if the film was a muddled mess.

So why revert to more comfortable territory, to a “romcom with edge,” as Mr. Cook describes “My Best Friend’s Girl”?

Why not really go out on a limb by taking serious roles and using your ability to sell out college arenas as a fallback if things don’t pan out?

Seriously: What’s the deal with Dane Cook?

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