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America's Sweethearts

Reviewed By Thom
Posted 07/18/01 17:33:31

"Delightful grown up zaniness."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

It's weird watching a movie in a movie made by people who make movies. The opening scene is a series of clips from the fictional movies of the fictional move stars Gwen Harrison (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and Eddie Thomas (John Cusack). In one, Eddie is a lawyer and as he circles the courtroom, the camera pans around him 365 degrees. It's a ludicrous shot that at first holds the dramatic tension and tight focus we are used to seeing in courtroom drama but there's a moment when you need to cut to someone else's reaction or the shot becomes dizzying. It's a little lesson in editing by people who make technically sound movies but have to create a fictional film. Remember how when they used to drink soda, the prop people would change the name so it was like "Carefree Cola" because for some reason you couldn't use real world artifacts inside the film. That would be too much like blurring the line between fact and fantasy. Product placement has changed all that, but lets say the cola was a movie and you had to exaggerate it so that nobody would be more interested in the fictional film inside the (fictional) film. That's what you get in the first few scenes. It's like watching an unintentional parody of the films we all know and love. Really bad films. For a movie with movie promotion and "the business" in the foreground, America's Sweethearts is full of playful little jabs at the industry that keeps the star power of the cast shining bright. What else would you expect from a film co-written by Hollywood survivor (or are they called "veterans", as if they made it through some kind of a war) and funny man Billy Crystal.

And it is a very funny movie that is more delightful than uproarious.

Hal (Christopher Walken), an obscure but genius film maker has a film in the can but he won't show it to the studio boss, Dave (Stanley Tucci) or anyone before the press junket. Dave is on pins and needles and like everyone in Hollywood, desperate for a hit, or even a good script. Not only is Dave in deep but Gwen and Eddie have seen their popularity at the box office drop and ever since their high profile breakup, its gotten worse. America just can't watch Gwen in a film without Eddie. The only thing that will save the new Gwen and Eddie movie, a movie that nobody has seen, is if Gwen and Eddie promote the film as America's Sweethearts Gwen-n-Eddie. Trouble is that Gwen doesn't want anything to do with Eddie and Eddie is an emotionally wrecked shadow of his former self hiding out at a wellness center. In comes Lee (Billy Crystal). Lee has to get Gwen and Eddie back together again at least for the press and arrange a press junket in two weeks for a movie that may not exist. And who does he get to help him but Kiki, Gwen's sister and assistant, played by Julia Roberts.

Seth Green plays a monkey named Danny who is being mentored by Lee. Green's character doesn't have many lines and often just stands around on camera looking at Lee. He's a convenient distraction and useful device. Without Danny, we wouldn't know that Lee, although he is getting fired, is a master publicist with years of experience to bestow upon the greenhorn, Danny. He comes in handy during some of the "espionage" scenes where Lee engineers photo ops for the press to create the impression that Eddie and Gwen really are getting back together. Green was so engaging on screen as Scott Evil that it was hard to not watch him even when the scene was Crystal's. I'd be sitting there waiting for him to do or say something and he'd just blink. I don't think it was the best role for him but he probably didn't balk at the job.

In another art imitates life imitates art moment, Larry King, who plays himself, plays himself. The show doesn't really end on or off the camera. Every personality is a brand, even the ones we think of as "real" people, like Larry King.

Billy Crystal gives himself a few good one liners and some sight gags and it looks like Cusack even got a few cents into the script by getting to do a scene with a gun. Cusack works well with characters that have a darker edge. Look for him in the upcoming Miramax comedy, Serendipity , co-starring Superstar Molly Shannon. Zeta-Jones manages to play a screen vixen without taking the role as seriously as she does in real life.

Ultimately, the film is a romance but not a romance between the once estranged couple. The film takes a surprise turn that you can see coming a mile away in the trailers (else why would Kiki even be in this film) and we end up with love blooming. All's well that ends well. Hal unveils his masterpiece at the junket with the introduction, "This is the most honest film I have ever made". Critics took a blow here. We are always going on about "honesty" in films which are all about dreams and fantasy's anyway. If Hollywood doesn't come out completely unscathed, the press takes a beating as the unfortunate middle man between what American audiences want to know about celebrities and what personal life a celebrity would like to keep to themselves. The press in the film was ecstatic about Hal's new "Honest Film" that is as funny a behind the scenes film as the behind the scenes film you just watched.

Christopher Walken played a character I actually liked. Just when I thought his schtick was wearing thin, he comes through with a couple of good roles: the horseman in Sleepy Hollow and now a tap dancing, Easy Rider refugee. And Hank Azaria, who plays Gwen's Spanish boyfriend Hector, slips from a Castillian accent to an Irish accent in a couple scenes where he has to talk fast. Watch for it! Hector was good for a few laughs as he defends the size of his "penith".

Crystal wanted to make a classic ensemble comedy the way they used to be done in the 30's and 40's. Zany, fast-moving story with sharp twists and turns and a cast of big stars doing things that can't be done in real life without punitive consequences.

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