Film: The Big Picture - Not Enough Malice in Wonderland ; AMERICA'S SWEETHEARTS (12) DIRECTOR JOE ROTH STARRING JOHN CUSACK CATHERINE ZETA JONES 103 MINS
Quinn, Anthony, The Independent (London, England)
Hollywood on Hollywood: is there anything, other than a hit, that the industry loves more? Holding up the mirror has been a source of inspiration to some great directors. Preston Sturges did it soulfully in Sullivan's Travels. Nicholas Ray did it despairingly in In a Lonely Place. Altman did it suavely in The Player. Now, the former studio boss Joe Roth does it softly, softly in America's Sweethearts, his subjects making bland sitting-ducks of themselves: the venality of the studios, the egomania of the talent, the duplicity of the publicity agent, the stupidity of the press. These join to form a conga line of self-mockery, or would do if Billy Crystal and his co-writer Peter Tolan didn't keep on confusing self- mockery with self-regard.
It begins promisingly enough. Eddie Thomas (John Cusack) and Gwen Harrison (Catherine Zeta Jones), having enjoyed hit after hit as Hollywood's hottest couple, are now on the brink of divorce. Their last picture together, priced at $86m, is being held ransom by its madcap genius director (Christopher Walken), who refuses to show the finished product to anyone until the press screening. (A movie that hasn't been audience-approved - we instantly know we're watching a fantasy.) In a flurry of panic, the chief suit at the studio (Stanley Tucci) hires a veteran press agent, Lee Phillips (Billy Crystal), who will cajole the feuding couple into making nice for the media and thus help rescue the movie from disaster.
Crystal's smokescreen is a press junket at an expensive country resort, where his first task is to cool the heated egos of his two stars. Easier said than done when Eddie is still smarting from his wife's rejection, and Gwen is, well, battling with the pressures of just being Gwen: "People have no idea what it's like being me," she whines. The twist is that Gwen's younger sister Kiki is a long- suffering Cinderella who's been quietly carrying a torch for Eddie. The further twist is that she was once a frumpy 16-stoner and now looks more of a movie star than her sister: she's Julia Roberts, in fact. (If you ever wondered how Julia looks in a fat-suit, here's your opportunity). So the fuse is lit, and we sit back and wait for the fireworks.
An hour and a half later, we're still waiting. America's Sweethearts turns out to be one of those films that operates at the lowest possible level of interest without actually plunging you into boredom. The problem is that it lacks either the snap of satire or the giddiness of screwball. Joe Roth, who once made a tight little family comedy called Coupe de Ville, seems to have mislaid those comic chops during his long absence as a production chief. Crystal can write a whip-smart line now and then - Eddie on why he travels alone: "I'm a paranoid schizophrenic - I am my own entourage" - and he understands the way the business works, yet this isn't enough to sustain a movie. The mutual back-scratching of the press junket is accurately caught in the montage of …
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Publication information: Article title: Film: The Big Picture - Not Enough Malice in Wonderland ; AMERICA'S SWEETHEARTS (12) DIRECTOR JOE ROTH STARRING JOHN CUSACK CATHERINE ZETA JONES 103 MINS. Contributors: Quinn, Anthony - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: October 19, 2001. Page number: 10. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.