America's Sweethearts

  angel eyes
After recounting career low points like "Mary Reilly" and "Con Air," John Cusack and Julia Roberts share an intimate movie star moment.

© 2001 Columbia.
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Only in a place like Hollywood would something as arrogant and unpleasant as "America's Sweethearts" (IMDb listing) be viewed as mass entertainment. Unless our media-savvy world just got a three picture deal at Paramount, I don't think jokes about press junkets, arrogant star behavior, and conniving publicists are universal just yet.

Gwen (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and Eddie (John Cusack) are two of the biggest stars in Hollywood. They have starred in several pictures together, married off camera, and lead a posh life of celebrity. But behind the scenes, Gwen and Eddie are divorcing, and it is up to a lone publicist (Billy Crystal) to keep them looking happy together as they promote their new film. Gwen's sister Kiki (Julia Roberts), who also acts as her personal assistant, tags along to provide moral support. However, once back in Eddie's presence, old feelings start to rise in Kiki that places the promotional efforts in jeopardy.

"America's Sweethearts" is nothing new. Hollywood has been satirizing itself since the birth of cinema. Yet every once in a while, the movies that are doing the poking—like "America's Sweethearts"—are just so smug and aware of themselves, that it hurts the eyes and ears. "America's Sweethearts" takes the giant leap and assumes that the collective will hold any interest in caricatures of raving mad studio presidents and the aforementioned press junkets. The latter really got under my skin. I don't care how "in the know" the public is, press junkets are just way too inside a target for ridicule for a film that aspires to break $100 million in two weeks at the box office. From beginning to end, "America's Sweethearts" is indulgent in its targets like this. I hope it kept the cast and crew in stitches, because it positively bored me to tears.

Though you could've seen this coming, all the actors in "America's Sweethearts" appear to be engaging their auto-pilot. Billy Crystal is doing his prerecorded bits, Zeta-Jones is performing well below her talents, Cusack has the same dead eyes he had when he was running around in "Con Air," and Roberts? I have been very critical of the Oscar-winning actress lately, but for every "Erin Brockovich" we get nine films like "America's Sweethearts" after it. Roberts is all too willing to rest on her ability, and I'm becoming less and less enthused by her lack of challenges.

Out of a cast of heavyweights like this, the only one that comes out smelling like a rose is celebrated character actor Hank Azaria ("Godzilla," "The Simpsons"). Portraying Gwen's heated Latin lover, Azaria chooses a thick, cartoony accent as his weapon and unleashes it on all his bored castmates. He is the only fun of the picture.

To add to the ick factor of "America's Sweethearts," the picture was directed by Joe Roth, who happens to be the top dog at Revolution Studios, and they happen to be one of the two studios responsible for the domestic release of the film. Roth has helmed other pictures before, namely the "Revenge Of The Nerds" sequel, and it looks as though he has not honed his craft in intervening years. Roth has an anvil touch with comedy, and the whole corporate synergy angle leads me to conclude that no one dared say no to the director.

Of equal concern is the Billy Crystal/Peter Tolan screenplay that is all too willing to go for crotch gags to seize a laugh. These two didn't need this kind of nonsense in their other successful collaboration, "Analyze This," and the desperation for any kind of joke that could work outside of the Hollywood mockery is depressing.

"America's Sweethearts" is as transparent and shallow as the characters in the film. Even if you can get past the insider showbusiness material, you're still stuck with a laugh-free movie. "America's Sweethearts" is a losing proposition either way.

Filmfodder Grade: D-