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Tiffany Haddish, Billy Crystal

“HERE TODAY” My rating: C+ (In theaters)

117 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Billy Crystal’s sincere but ultimately unfulfilling dramedy “Here Today” is a queasy blend of vintage Crystal wise-cracking and dour navel gazing.

That it works as well as it does is largely due to the pairing of the veteran funnyman with Tiffany Haddish. Turns out that in real life they are besties, so the affection that radiates from their screen relationship is the real deal.

Comedy writer Charlie Berns (Crystal) is a legend in the business and though in his late 60s holds down a gig on the staff of a hit sketch TV show wildly popular with millenials. He’s a mentor to the younger writers, serving as a sort of conscience when the kids push things too far and punching up flat sketches with a new line here and a tweak there.

Thing is, Charlie has been diagnosed with dementia. He gets along by following the same daily routine, but increasingly he’s living in the past with memories of his late beloved wife (portrayed as a young woman by Louisa Krause).

Charlie has a grown son (Penn Badgley) and daughter (Laura Benanti) and especially a beloved granddaughter, but he hasn’t shared his diagnosis with them. During his busy prime Charlie was pretty much an absentee father, and resentments still simmer.

His co-workers on the comedy show are equally in the dark.

Enter Emma (Haddish), a jazz singer whose former boyfriend played the winning bid at a charity auction for a lunch with the great Charlie Berns. Emma is too young to know anything about Charlie or his work, but using the lunch ticket is a good way to get revenge on he ex.

Who knew the two would so quickly hit it off?

In its early going, at least, “Here Today” benefits from blasts of Crystal humor. Charlie may be slipping away, but he’s alert and aware much of the time, and still displays impeccable comic skills.

Slowly, though, his forgetfulness and anxiety begin to percolate through his daily existence. And with his children at arm’s length, it falls to his new best bud Emma to become his new caregiver. She doesn’t think twice about jumping into the fight.

Crystal not only writes, directs and stars in the film, he has packed it with celebs portraying themselves (Sharon Stone, Kevin Kline, Barry Levinson). Anna Deavere Smith portrays his neurologist.

And it’s not bad.

But no early kidding around can disguise the fact that “Here Today” will soon mutate into “Gone Tomorrow.” It’s a downer, a constant balancing act between silliness and tears. It only works part of the time.

| Robert W. Butler


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