5 out of 10
Envy, Gluttony and Roth
Remember when Ben Affleck's affair with J-Lo was on the front pages so often he seriously considered it qualified him to run for the vice-presidency as Senator Kerry's running mate? In a parody of the "Bennifer" phenomenon and the public's unending obsession with Hollywood romances, John Cusack and Catherine Zeta-Jones star as Gwen Harrison and Eddie Thomas in this satircal but disappointing comedy by Billy Crystal.
Hollywood megastars, Gwen and Eddie, are best known for outragous hits such as "Autumn with Greg & Peg" and "Sasha & the Optometrist." It is just weeks before the release of their new picture "Time Over Time" directed by famed reclusive auteur Hal Weidmann (Christopher Walken), but everything has gone wrong. Gwen has left Eddie for hot Latin co-star Hector Gorgonzolas (Hank Azaria) and the studio head Dave Kingman (Stanley Tucci) is in a jam when Weidmann has held the film hostage and will only send the credits for screening just before an upcoming press junket. To cover up the fact that the film is missing, Kingman demands that veteran PR agent Lee Philips (Billy Crystal) bring the two together for press conference in secluded Nevada to lead the American public into believing that there is a hope of a reunion.
Directed by well-known Hollywood producer Joe Roth, ("Christmas with the Kranks"), "America's Sweethearts" is a cutting and witty satire in the spirit of 1930's Hollywood. Written in the style of classics such as Jack Lemmon's "The Apartment" or the 1941 Hitchcock movie "Mr. & Mrs. Smith," and set in a farcical, almost "Soapdish" or Coen-esque world it is a cruel parody of the film industry. Billy Crystal and Peter Tolan, who worked together previously on "Analyze This" and "Analyze That," have created a clever script and story with a sharp portrayal of the often seemingly narcistic and appearance-obsessed world of Hollywood, filled with divas, vapid co-stars, overworked assistants, underage groupies and gossip-hungry press. Opening with promise however, it quickly decends into some fairly low-brow humor and ultimately a disappointing romance, finishing in a less-than-clever dead halt.
However inept the story and direction are, the veteran cast walk through their roles with little effort. Similar to the cold and calculating Velma Kelly from "Chicago" or Marilyn Rexroth from "Intolerable Cruelty," Zeta-Jones easily takes on the role of the Gwen. Particularly perfect in a scene with Larry King where she is berated for trying to go it alone without Eddie, Zeta-Jones is well cast in a role that was originally written for Meg Ryan. Cusack also is good as the slightly manic, recovering Eddie, similar to many of his series of jilted lovers which have followed his character of Lloyd Dobler from "Say Anything." Azaria with even a voice similar to his role as Agador from Birdcage seems completely ease portraying the vapid Hector. Alan Arkin as Eddie's Wellness Farm Guru, Crystal as Lee and Seth Green as studio assistant Danny Wax provide solid comic relief when things get slow. Walken too is clever as the antisocial Weidmann who was based on the film director Hal Ashby - the man responsible for classics "Being There" and "Harold and Maude." The downfall of the picture, however, is Julia Roberts. Originally slated to play Gwen, she appears as her younger sister and overburdened assistant Kiki who has just lost 60 pounds and has a crush on Eddie. Roberts brings a style to her role similar to "Pretty Woman" or "My Best Friend's Wedding," which is often too heavy for the light and satirical style of Crystal's script.
Although with a good premise and some highly comic moments, the love story between Cusack and Roberts is what eventually brings "America's Sweethearts" down. Changing gears from comedy to serious love story, the relationship between Kiki and Eddie seems misplaced and instead of rising above the shallow union of Gwen and Eddie which appealed to the vanity of Hollywood and America at large, there is something less savoury about Kiki buying into a a world in which Crystal is poking fun. Also what is a fairly tight storyline at the beginning decends into a circus by the later scenes, losing it's original humor and message. With the only award won by James Newton Howard for "Those Were Good Times," found on the "America's Sweethearts" unmemorable soundtrack, which contains contributions from Mark Knopfler, The Corrs and Diane Warren and now sells for 56 cents a copy on Amazon, must have been a further disappointment. With Howard winning at least two awards per year, usually for ER, from ASCAP who hand out awards like Smarties, this might also not be much of a feat.
The final scenes are the most disappointing, underusing the characters and clever storyline, it feels a bit like a bad cross between "City Slickers" and Robert Altman's "Pret A Porter" with a lot of big names but no real direction, it quietly shuts down after exceeding the 100 minute mark, putting ideas out but never really resolving or accomplishing anything.
Film Critic: Jennifer M Lillies