The new HBO comedy The Brink follows three seperate but intertwined story threads, as the Secretary of State (Tim Robbins), a low-level diplomat (Jack Black) and a fighter pilot (Pablo Schrieber) all try to prevent World War III in the wake of a military coup in Pakistan.
This is not the first time the show’s two biggest names, Jack Black and Tim Robbins (who also carry producer credits on the show, while Robbins directed the second episode) have worked together: both are members of the Actors’ Gang, an experimental theater troupe founded in 1981 by Robbins that has included Jack Black, John Cusack, Helen Hunt, Jeremy Piven, Jon Favreau, and many others, with a charter to “produce plays that contribute to the ongoing dialogue about our society and culture, while never forgetting that theater’s primary purpose is to entertain.”
In addition to their work together on stage, Black and Robbins have appeared together onscreen in a number of films.
Bob Roberts, Robbins’ directorial debut, is a brilliant and prescient satire of the electoral process that also happened to be Jack Black’s first screen credit. Robbins plays the title role, a conservative presidential candidate who’s able to paper over his true intentions with a few folksy affectations – including setting his policies to the tune of his acoustic guitar – while Black plays one of his deranged followers.
Black had a small role as Sean Penn’s younger brother in Dead Man Walking, the movie Robbins directed about a man on death row for murder, whose unlikely friendship with a nun (Susan Sarandon) leads him to finally confess his crime.
High Fidelity was Black’s breakout screen role, where he stole the movie out from under fellow Actors’ Gang alum John Cusack as the know-it-all record store clerk Barry. Robbins is amusing in a small role as the ponytailed peace-and-love type that Cusack’s girlfriend moves in with when she leaves him. Black’s performance of Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” at the end of the movie sent everyone back to his (at that point) little-known musical project with another Actors’ Gang member, Kyle Gass, Tenacious D. (High Fidelity is available to watch on demand on Sling TV.)
Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny, while admittedly made several years after the self-described “Greatest Band In The World” had faded from the peak of its cult status, is nonetheless amusing, with Black and Gass as the acoustic duo with more confidence than audience, in search of a magic guitar pick; Robbins pops up in a cameo as “The Stranger.”
Robbins and Black both popped up in cameos in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy; Black as the motorcyclist who kicks Ron’s little dog off the bridge, and Robbins as the PBS news anchor in the classic “News Team Brawl” scene.
With both Robbins and Black aboard and serving as producers, it’s safe to assume that The Brink has something on its mind, but won’t shy away from silly humor, which is a tricky recipe but when it goes right, the results can be glorious.