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Hollywood North

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 02/25/07 18:20:30

"Plenty charming."
3 stars (Just Average)

There’s something dependably funny in seeing the production of a movie go all wrong in a zillion different ways. Be it real or fiction, getting to watch as egos burst, millions get wasted, and art turns into trash always makes for a good comedy. (Oh, it can make for good drama, too, but the comedy’s too easy to pass up.) The latest in the long line of films about a movie project gone awry is “Hollywood North,” a pleasant little comedy set in 1979, when the Canadian film industry was struggling to find its footing, its own unique voice.

And how do you make something so inherently Canadian? You hire an American star, of course. That’s the paradox first-time producer Bobby Meyers (Matthew Modine) faces when attempting to adapt his favorite novel to the screen. The novel is regarded as something of a national treasure, and how appropriate it would be for the film to be an all-Canadian production. But then the financer (Alan Thicke) insists that a Hollywood celeb be cast in order to help sell tickets.

Bobby’s cornered into hiring Michael Baytes (Alan Bates), a one-time great actor who’s devolved into a gun nut and conspiracy freak, a hammy lunatic who’s pretty much what you’d get if you took Charlton Heston and Charles Bronson and squished them into one person, then loaded him up on coke and locked him in a bunker. Baytes, paranoid about the troubles in Iran, insists that a complete script overhaul must be done to make the story a pro-democracy anthem, and soon the quaint Cuban-set romance known as “Lantern Moon” is now a gung ho action thriller set in Colombia and called “Flight To Bogota.” Just don’t tell the author.

“Hollywood North” isn’t as clever as, say, the wicked satire of “State and Main.” But what the film lacks in bite and originality, it makes up for in humor and charm. This is a genuinely funny picture, with big laughs coming from seeing just how bad the movie-within-the movie’s becoming. And while many moments get a bit too broad (Baytes eventually becomes convinced that the rebels of the movie are actually out to get him) or familiar (Jennifer Tilly plays the slutty costar, a character that offers nothing new), they’re balanced by warmer, quiter laughs from Modine and Deborah Unger, who plays the gifted filmmaker hired to do a “making of” documentary. And besides, Bates and Tilly are sharp enough to be funnier than their material, and for the most part, they make their punchlines work.

There are jokes I’m sure went over my head, as I’m no expert on the history of the Canadian film industry. But the punchline about how America manages to get into (and ruin) everything is pretty universal stuff, as are notions of compromise in art, chaos spinning out of control, and, well, people acting like jackasses. “Hollywood North” is nothing we haven’t seen before, but it is likable enough and humorous enough to make it worth the time.

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