August 4, 2001 -- "America's Sweethearts" is an old-fashioned screwball romantic comedy sort of like "The Front Page," except it is about the film industry instead of newspapers. The set-up is slow and weak, but once it gets rolling, it works pretty well.
The story concerns two big stars, Gwen Harrison and Eddie Thomas, played by Catherine Zeta-Jones of "Traffic" and John Cusack of "High Fidelity." They are America's sweethearts. Together, they are box-office gold. Separately, they suck celluloid. They have split the sheets. Studio publicist Lee Phillips (Billy Crystal of "Analyze This"), has just been fired. He works out a deal to get his job back, but only if he can get Harrison and Thomas back together again in time to hype their latest film.
Phillips conspires with Harrison's sister, Kiki (Julia Roberts of "Erin Brockovich") to put them together in a remote hotel for a film junket. A junket is where the studio wines and dines a bunch of film critics and other media types in hopes of getting favorable reviews and press coverage of a new film. Further complications arise when Gwen's lover, Hector (Hank Azaria of "Cradle Will Rock"), shows up at the hotel. Another complication has eccentric director Hal Weidmann (Christopher Walken of "Joe Dirt") refusing to let anyone see the film until the junket. Phillips has his hands full trying to keep the entire situation from exploding.
Thomas is still in love with Gwen Harrison, but starts to become romantically interested in Gwen's sister, Kiki. While Gwen is a spoiled starlet, Kiki is a practical woman who has spent her life taking care of her sister's needs. Everybody knows who is supposed to end up with whom at the end of the movie, but there are lots of other things going on in the meantime.
Walken turns in a nice comic performance as the slightly demented director, who edits his latest film in Unibomber Ted Kaczynski's cabin. He also manages to get in some dance steps in the film, as Walken has done ever since that recent dancing bit in a music video. Catherine Zeta-Jones is convincing as the spoiled star and Cusack, one of the best actors around, is perfect as the befuddled, frustrated lover. Crystal is effective as the ruthless publicist. Crystal's part reminds me of the editor's role in "The Front Page." He's a ruthless publicist, but he's got a romantic streak as well. Stanley Tucci of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" plays a hysterical studio executive, Alan Arkin of "Slums of Beverly Hills" has a funny turn as a new age wellness guru.
The movie has good production values, set design, art direction, photography and sound, as one would expect from a star vehicle like this. The script (co-written by Billy Crystal and Peter Tolan) is slow to engage at the beginning, but will reward the knowledgeable viewer with some laughs by the later stages of the film. There are some effective fantasy sequences. It is a funny send-up of the film industry, particularly the movie within a movie, within a movie bit. There are numerous entertainment industry types, like Larry King and Byron Allen who perform parodies of themselves in the film. This film rates a C+.
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