The pitch of America's Sweethearts is set from the word go.
A video promo shows us clips from the films of a star Hollywood duo, Gwen (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and Eddie (John Cusack). Everything is over the top: corny plots, hammy acting, syrupy music.
But then reality intrudes. Gwen and Eddie are no longer a real-life couple, which poses enormous problems for the studio that has their last unreleased film together, Time Over Time, still in the cutting room. Mightn't Lee (Billy Crystal), a fallen executive, work his old magic and bring the stars together for a press junket to launch the movie?
The Tinsel Town jokes in America's Sweethearts are, for the most part, obvious and predictable. But the centre of the story is really the relationship between Gwen and the personal assistant who also happens to be her sister, Kiki (Julia Roberts). The women find themselves locked in a tussle over sad sack Eddie.
Kiki is meant to be the plain sister in this tangle, but here the film wimps out. Although there are a couple of amusing flashbacks to Kiki in her frumpy phase, for the most part we see Roberts looking exactly like Roberts. For the romantic comedy to make convincing sense, Roberts would have to de-glam herself as Drew Barrymore gamely did in Never Been Kissed (1999).
Joe Roth (Revenge of the Nerds 2 ) directs, but the real auteur of this piece is Crystal, who serves as producer and co-writer. He takes a back seat to his stars, which is merciful. Crystal's comedic talent is entirely verbal. His attempts at physical slapstick, such as a scene where Lee saves Eddie from hurling himself off a roof, are half-hearted.
The biggest treat in this middling entertainment is Christopher Walken as the reclusive, eccentric, obsessed director, Hal. Modelled on Abel Ferrara (with whom Walken has frequently worked) – and there is more of this shtick in the DVD extras – Hal turns his long-awaited movie into a Lars von Trier-style Dogme chronicle filmed with hidden video cameras. At the premiere, his reactions to his own work are priceless.
Standing before a crowd of journalists, grabbing the mike, Hal goes into a passionate spiel, identifying himself with the deceased greats: "Kubrick was misunderstood, Godard was misunderstood ..." There is, unfortunately, only one thing wrong with this line. Godard is not yet dead.
© Adrian Martin October 2001