November 6, 2008

Movie Review: What Just Happened?

whatjusthappened1_largeI was left asking the same question as the title when the closing credits began to roll. Going in, I was looking forward to a satire that sank its teeth into the Hollywood machine. Unfortunately, I was left a little cold to the whole piece. Yes, there were some funny moments and interesting scenes, but taken as a whole it never really went anywhere. Something tells me that those who like this film the most will be those who are in the business whose lives are reflected in these frames.

The film is based on a nonfiction book by producer Art Linson What Just Happened?: Bitter Hollywood Tales from the Front Line. The screenplay, also penned by Linson, is a fictionalized account of a producer running into all sorts of issues and roadblocks when trying to get various projects off the ground and completed, not to mention personal issues with a family that is no longer his own.

Robert DeNiro stars as Ben, a hot shot producer suffering from a severe case of bad luck over the two-week span that the movie covers. It all begins with a disastrous initial test screening for his latest film, Fiercely, starring Sean Penn (who lays himself). Everything came to a head at the end of a film when a dog is killed by gunshot to the head. Lou (Catherine Keener), the head of the studio, has vowed to take the film away from hotshot director Jeremy Brunell (Michael Wincott) if the film is not reworked to her liking. Her demands are supported by the fact that he does not have final cut.

While Ben tries to cajole and convince Jeremy to change his film, another storm is brewing. This new problem involves a new film that Ben needs to get off the ground. This one stars Bruce Willis (also playing himself). The problem is that Bruce has shown up with a Grizzly Adams beard and a few extra pounds. The studio backing the film is insisting that Bruce appear in the film beardless, something that is an issue for Bruce who sees this as an artistic choice, one that is an endless cause of headaches for Ben who is feeling the pressure.

Further compounding this juggling act that Ben is trying to pull off is his relationship with his soon to be ex-wife and the separation counseling they have been attending. It is not working as well as had been hoped due to Ben's inability to let go, still thinking of them as a couple.

On the surface, this sounds like the perfect set up to take a stab at the behind the scenes machinations of the Hollywood machine. So why did it end up such a lackluster affair? That is a question I do not have the answer to. It is not a question of bad performances or inferior direction. I guess the blame could be laid at the feet of a script that fails to gain focus. I imagine the book is a much more fascinating work, but when it came to getting all of it into a film there was little that could be done to inject energy and life into it.

It is a shame, as this was a great opportunity to craft a film that could stand alongside other Barry Levinson films like Wag the Dog or even Man of the Year. Instead, the finished film strikes me as a little too inside, to the point that only those who see their lives reflected back at them will enjoy it.

Bottomline. The cast is stacked with recognizable faces from top to bottom, helping keep the disinterest at bay. I mean, I enjoyed it enough not to regret having seen it, but there is so much more that could have been done to draw in the average "outside the biz" viewer. Still, it is more enjoyable than DeNiro's last film, Righteous Kill. Too bad that does not say much.

Not Recommended.


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