Rated PG-13 - Running Time: 1:40 - Released 7/20/01

From the minds and pens of Billy Crystal and Peter Tolan comes America's Sweethearts, a satirically biting romantic comedy directed by Joe Roth about the multiple personalities of the Hollywood movie biz. Starring Julia Roberts, John Cusack, and Catherine Zeta-Jones, and featuring some amusing supporting performances by Crystal, Christopher Walken, Stanley Tucci, and others, this film shows us the offscreen antics that may or may not occur during the production and presentation of your typical major feature release. While this pretext would have been enough, Crystal and Tolan couldn't resist including the standard romance formula (after all, they had Julia Roberts on hand), and this brings an unfortunate sameness to what could have been a truly unique production. Still, the actors involved are so skilled at said formula that they bring it off beautifully.

With this story, we are given insight into all the personae that make up the movie industry — spoiled actors, pretentious directors, opportunistic publicists, mercenary producers, and - ahem - jaded critics. We first learn about the on- and offscreen couple to whom the title refers, sweethearts Eddie Thomas (Cusack) and Gwen Harrison (Zeta-Jones). Unfortunately, after making numerous successful films together, the famous couple has separated and Gwen has taken a new Spanish boyfriend (Hank Azaria). The split has not only disappointed the viewing public and the entire contingent of Hollywood producers, it has driven Eddie into hiding, and to the brink of insanity. We soon learn, however, that quirky and reclusive director Hal Wideman (Walken) has finished work on the couple's last film together, Time Over Time. Sensing a golden opportunity to capitalize on the public's Eddie & Gwen craving, producer Kingman (Tucci) hires publicist Lee (Crystal) to arrange a press junket, even though Wideman has not yet delivered the film.

After some cajoling, Lee convinces Eddie and Gwen to appear at the junket together, telling the lovelorn Eddie that maybe Gwen will reconsider, while assuring Gwen that this will provide an opportunity to serve her divorce papers. Among her entourage is Gwen's down-to-earth, formerly overweight sister Kiki (Roberts), who serves as assistant (i.e. personal slave) to the self-centered actress. After a long and childish argument over whose limo should arrive first, they meet and begin a series of long and childish arguments over various other things, with Lee making the most of the controversy and Kiki acting as romantic go-between, until the director finally arrives with the mysterious film.

The actors are obviously enjoying what they do here, as it appears they are intimately familiar with the kinds of personalities that inhabit what I like to call Hollowwood. Cusack is effective as ever in his standard "psychotic nice guy" role, and Zeta-Jones hams it up as the temperamental Gwen. Crystal and Roberts are playing their stock characters (the ascerbically funny Jewish guy and the radiant but underappreciated nice girl, respectively), but they do it so well, it doesn't matter that we've seen it a million times. Tucci is exceptionally funny in his few minutes of screen time, and Walken, well, Walken is Walken, perhaps the most perfectly cast actor in the film as the spookily creative genius. One new thing this film offers is the chance to see Julia Roberts in fat makeup (well, not fat but overweight). Roberts has spent so many years looking perfect that it's funny to see what she would look like as a frumpy 200-pounder. Overall, Crystal's comment on his business is akin to Frank Oz's Bowfinger, giving the film set a chance to laugh at themselves, but not digging so deeply as to draw blood. ****½

Copyright 2001 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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