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America's Sweethearts

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: America's Sweethearts

Starring: John Cusack, Julia Roberts
Director: Joe Roth
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 110 Minutes
Release Date: July 2001
Genres: Comedy, Romance

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

Interesting, isn't it, how life follows art and art follows life? When Tim Blake Nelson was putting the movie "O" together-- loosely based on Shakespeare's "Othello" including a high-school shootout--he could not have envisioned the tragedy at Columbine High School in Colorado. When Alejandro Amenabar was going through the steps of directing "The Others"--in which two children must be kept indoors at all times, away from sunlight lest they die of an incurable disease--he could not have known that several months later the wife of Helmut Kohl would commit suicide because she had a similar ailment.

Along comes Joe Roth with "America's Sweethearts," Columbia Pictures' self-deprecatory look at press junkets, opening just days after attorney Anthony Sonnet, representing Citizens for Truth in Movie Advertising, filed a lawsuit against the major studios for using the quotes of junketeers as though they were wholly unbiased opinions. "America's Sweethearts" takes satiric aim as well at supercilious actors, megalomaniac studio heads, movie publicists, Eastern therapy, and most of all at Cupid's demented aim, placing arrows now here, now there, mixing up we fallible human beings so much that we can't be blamed for our relationship with nervous breakdowns, heartbreak, and other drawbacks most piercing to our species.

"America's Sweethearts" is Joe Roth's first time at the helm in a decade, his last movie, the forgettable "Coupe de Ville," not nearly a mark of his identity as his almost six-year leadership of Walt Disney Studios beginning in mid-1994. If anyone knows the movie industry it's Roth, so we can excuse some inaccuracies in his take on press junkets as deliberate, designed so better to entertain us, and chuckle at the ways of the American film industry which has captivated most of the civilized world.

The movie's very title "America's Sweethearts," indicates that this is not the story of any one person, is not told from an individual's point of view, but one which is driven by sharp ensemble work by a crack team of comic actors. The concept that propels the story is the desire of Lee Phillips (Billy Crystal), a major publicist for a big Hollywood studio, to carry out a successful press junket in the Nevada desert (actually filmed at the Hyatt Regency in the Vegas area). He faces two problems. One is that the bizarre director, Hal Weidmann (Christopher Walken), is holding his picture hostage, refusing to release it until it shows at the junket itself, so that not even the studio head, Dave Kingman (Stanley Tucci), is privy to its contents. The other is that the two stars of Weidmann's picture, Gwen Harrison (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and Eddie Thomas (John Cusack), have split up and are about to divorced. The studio believes that their reconciliation would be wonderful press to influence the junketeers and the public alike, bringing in the big bucks at the box office. Increasing the obstacles faced by Eddie is the fact that Gwen's sister and gofer, Kiki Harrison (Julia Roberts), is carrying the torch for Eddie while Gwen is enjoying the company of the fiery Spaniard, Hector (Hank Azaria).

While no one person steals the show, there is ample opportunity for all of these fine performers to strut their stuff, which they get to do in what is at once a series of Saturday- Night-Live style of sketches and a film that gels with a sentimental, if predictable ending.

Alan Arkin virtually winks at the audience bearing an inappropriate smile as the East Indian guide at a so called Wellness Center, where heartbroken Eddie has gone for a two- week cure that has kept him there for six months. Sporting a great run and a penchant for inhabiting the role of an Indian guru, Arkin agrees to a premature release of the not-yet-cured patient to the studio publicist in return for the promise of a convertible. Christopher Walken, looking every bit the image that the general public has of creative film directors, shows in the film's whimsical conclusion why he would not release his latest work before the press meeting.

I've never been to one of these out-of-town junkets in part because I review films but do not do interviews, but after seeing the scene at the Hyatt Regency displayed satirically by Joe Roth, I have to laugh at a defense that one blurbmeister gave of the practice. Said he, "You can't spend what [the studios] give you. "A hotel room? What is that? Is that real income? No. A meal? You have to eat. You can't turn around and convert that meal into money." Obviously, these are the luxuries on which people would love their spend their hard-earned cash, and as for food, I would hardly call the champagne being offered by waiters in white coats, the lavish outdoor spread, and the unlimited evening bar "a meal." What's more the press are getting all these amenities completely free of Uncle Sam's long reach.

While some critics have charged that the barbs are not sufficiently pointed and the comedy insufficiently off-the-wall, I'd have to dissent. Hank Azaria in the role of an off-the-wall Castilian, is the least effective person in the cast principally because his behavior is the of the least believable kind, and gentle satire frequently makes its points better than the harsher variety because the audience is in the good spirits needed to accept the message. "America's Sweethearts" is paced well, photographed sharply by Phedon Papamichael, and a welcome summer comedy well acted right down to its crotch-sniffing Doberman.

Copyright 2001 Harvey Karten

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