Ever wanted to know what the life of a bona fide movie star is really like? Then shell out the $10 for a movie ticket this weekend and go see "America's Sweethearts" (IMDb listing). Aside from being hilarious and well-acted, it blows open one of the world's best orchestrated cover-ups: The illustrious delusions of the people in front of Hollywood's cameras and the masterful creations of those behind the scenes that make the delusions possible in the first place.
In the film, actors Gwen Harrison (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and Eddie Thomas (John Cusack), America's proverbial sweethearts, are married but separated, and not on speaking terms. The split has all but destroyed Eddie emotionally, and he lives in self-imposed exile at a facility where he, together with a self-help guru (Alan Arkin), learns to be thankful for what's left of his life. Gwen meanwhile has shacked up with Hector the Spaniard (Hank Azaria), a god-awful Terminator-wannabe with a debilitating accent and the facilitating factor of Eddie and Gwen's break-up. No longer America's favorite couple, their careers have suffered and are in dire need of a boost.
Luckily, Hal (Christopher Walken), the director of the former couple's much-anticipated last movie, decides to keep the film under wraps, letting no one (least of all the studio execs) see it until the screening at the end of the official press junket. A real bombshell is needed to cover up the fact that the studio is heavily promoting a movie it doesn't have and that no one has seen so much as a trailer of. There is only one story that will do and only one man who can create it. Lee Phillips (Billy Crystal), resident-genius publicist, is called on to make the press believe that America's Sweethearts are back together again.
At first glance, the plot of "America's Sweethearts" combined with its all-star castJulia Roberts, Crystal, Zeta-Jones, and Cusackseems much too entangled with the real world to make an enjoyable movie, but it speaks to the cast's acting ability that it successfully manages to portray these characters without the combined, real-life star powers getting in the way. While the all-out diva doesn't seem much of a stretch for Zeta-Jones, Roberts in particular impresses in her supporting role as Gwen's much-plagued assistant and sister. America's real-life sweetheart pulls off the transformation to underdog gracefully, even when stuffed into a 60 pound fat-suit. Crystal, who also deserves credit for penning a screenplay (together with Peter Tolan) rich with his trademark dry wit and a well-rounded plot, revels in his role exposing tricks of the publicist trade. Cusack, back on the big screen for the first time since scoring with last year's "High Fidelity," effortlessly steps up to the challenge of being a big time, semi self-centered movie star with a good head on his shoulders.
While the major players all give fine performances in this picture, it's the supporting cast that really brings it full circle. Hilarious turns by Walken, Arkin, Azaria, Stanley Tucci, and former "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" cohort Seth Green, offer the audience a unique view behind the scenes of the Hollywood dream factory.
Directed by Joe Roth, who is better known for producing movies than actually directing them, "America's Sweethearts" is outrageously funny entertainment with a healthy dose of sarcasm for the movie-making industry. It's been created by people who see through the charades and realize that at the end of the day we're all just human...or at least that's what they want you to believe.
Filmfodder Grade: A