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The Muse

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4

All-Reviews.com Movie Review: The Muse

Starring: Sharon Stone, Albert Brooks
Director: Albert Brooks
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 97 Minutes
Release Date: August 1999
Genres: Comedy, Drama


*Also starring: Andie MacDowell, Jeff Bridges, Mark Feuerstein, Steven Wright, James Cameron, Martin Scorsese, Rob Reiner



Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

Coincidentally, the New York Times Circuits section that came out on the day of the critics' screening of "The Muse" highlighted a directory of software that can be used by screenwriters. The software includes Plots Unlimited, which gives the writer logical options among 5,000 situations; WritePro, which takes the user through essential rules for creating well-written material; John Truby's Blockbuster, for brainstorming a plot; and DramaticaPro, which advises the scripter about motivations, inner thoughts, moral dilemmas and courses of action. I'd guess that whoever actually does get a play onto the screen using computer help is going to receive critical notices that call the movie "apparently written by a computer."

If computers are not the answer, just how does a dramatist get ideas that are saleable? Chances are most who are successful at this difficult and highly competitive trade have the knack, the talent, the genius at knowing what will come across to an audience. For some gifted people, the notions for new movies pop into their heads annually. Look at Woody Allen, for example, who no sooner finishes one work than he is busy filming another. Others need inspiration: they're the kinds of people who may go for a decade or so without a single good idea and suddenly become enkindled. "The Muse," which is directed, co-written, and stars Albert Brooks deals with the latter situation. Brooks, performing in the role of Steven Phillips, a screenwriter who has lost his edge, has just been fired by Paramount Studios and doesn't know how he's going to feed his family of four.

"The Muse" is an imaginative yarn, yet another movie following closely on the heels of "Bowfinger." Like that vehicle for Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy, this one sends up the unique culture which is Hollywood--a town filled with a small number of successful studio department heads, producers, writers and directors and afflicted as well with many times that many wannabees and has-beens. Brooks, one of our most talented and successful comics who has done great work in "Defending Your Life" (considered by one critic to be "imperfect, like all of Brooks's movies, but hard to dislike"), and "Lost in America" (co-written, as is this one, by Monica Johnson, a send-up of yuppies), is true to form with a movie having a sit-comish design. Brooks, who was a regular on TV programs hosted by Ed Sullivan, Johnny Carson and Merv Griffin, frames his comedies around punch lines, presumably to be judged by how many sequences draw the laughs or chuckles and how many fall flat. Happily, most of the gags this time around can be appreciated, especially by an audience of regular moviegoers who are hip to Hollywood society with its celebrity chefs, producers who do lunch with their talent, and actors who consider themselves princes and princesses deserving all the benefits of a world enamored of American cinema.

Brooks's character, Steven Phillips, has just received the "humanitarian" award at a dinner presided over by Cybill Shepherd, who announces that the man has written seventeen films, "some of which are about the human condition." At home with his wife, Laura (Andie MacDowell) and his two daughters, he is asked what the award means and explains that this is what is given to people who do not win Oscars. Much of the humor throughout the 97-minute movie are of this self-deprecatory nature as Brooks runs through the role of a slightly neurotic and anxiety-ridden author. (This is sort of role that could have been played as well by Woody Allen.) Phillips's friend, Jack Warrick (Jeff Bridges), advises him to consult an actual living muse-- explaining that the muses in Greek mythology are nine children of Zeus whose role is to inspire people in the arts. Phillips consults with Sarah (Sharon Stone), the alleged source of inspiration, hoping to get back on track. He soon finds that Sarah is more a princess than a god, insisting that if she is to do her job properly she must be put up in the city's most expensive hotel, be treated to expensive gifts, and even given the run of Phillips's home. At various points in the film, Sarah is visited by the grateful people whom she has inspired, including Martin Scorsese (who does an amusing job as a motormouth who seems to have overdosed on Starbucks), Wolfgang Puck, Rob Reiner, and James Cameron--all playing themselves.

If Brooks successfully performs in the role of an annoying pest, constantly sniveling about the hand he's been dealt by unappreciative producers, Sharon Stone is even more notable in her portrayal of a woman who exploits her godlike position to extract expensive gratuities.

The point to "The Muse" is that the creative people in Hollywood are on a different planet, one which has furnished the chic set nationwide with such benefits as bottled water, arugula, sun-dried tomatoes, and in this case, the world's best cookies. The picture has even broader implications in portraying Hollywood as a dream factory which produces utter fantasies (such as the belief in living muses) that allow us to leave behind our real lives for a couple of hours each week. If some of the jokes fall flat, chalk those sections of the movie up to the periods that writer-director Albert Brooks's mentor was out to lunch. Fortunately, there's enough good fun in this yarn to make us believe that the highly talented Brooks has spent most of his creative time in the presence of his muse.

Copyright 2000 Harvey Karten

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