Compared to them, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford were poseurs, Elizabeth Taylor and Eddie Fisher flashes in the pan. Truly, madly, deeply, Gwen Harrison (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and Eddie Thomas (John Cusack) are "America's Sweethearts."
Hollywood's busiest married romantic couple, they've co-starred, a clever publicity reel reminds us, in no end of hits. "Justice never tasted so sweet as in 'On the Bench,' their love opened our eyes in 'Sasha and the Optometrist."' And so on.
Now their 10th film, "Time Over Time" ("He went back in time ... to save her future") is about to open, under the legendary direction of three-time Oscar winner Hal Weidmann. What could go wrong? In a word, everything. Only two people have even a possibility of setting things right: master publicist Lee Phillips (Billy Crystal) and Gwen Harrison's personal assistant--and sister--Kiki (Julia Roberts). Clearly, there's a lot to like about "America's Sweethearts." Reliably directed by Joe Roth, it's well cast, with an excellent premise and a wicked sense of humor, especially about the movie business. But as enjoyable as this film is in parts, it's not nearly as successful as a whole. Enormously engaging in its opening segments, it's unable to sustain that good feeling over the long haul.
One of the things that probably tempted Roth (who's spent the dozen years since he last directed running 20th Century Fox and the Walt Disney Studios) to get back behind the camera was the inside Hollywood stuff that includes the best parts of the Crystal & Peter Tolan script.
Though press reports say that he initially envisioned himself in the Cusack role, Crystal has ended up with the film's funniest part as a world-class manipulator, ego massager and studio publicity chief whose been-around motto is "everybody's got a price."
Capable as he is, Lee Phillips has just been fired by Dave Kingman (Stanley Tucci channeling Rod Steiger in "The Big Knife"), head of the studio distributing "Time Over Time." Kingman is not the type to change his mind, but two factors are making him reconsider letting Lee go.
One is that the golden couple of Gwen and Eddie have been separated for 18 months to increasingly bad publicity. Gwen is living with hunky Spanish actor Hector (amusingly played by Hank Azaria in his "Birdcage" mode), while Eddie is trying to recover his sanity in a wellness ashram run by Alan Arkin's dubious guru.
The second is that though the press junket is already scheduled, there is no finished film. Renegade director Weidmann (Christopher Walken looking like Hal Ashby) not only insists on editing his films in Ted Kaczynski's old cabin, he refuses to show the print to anyone until the junket. With Kingman fearful that the print might not show up at all, Lee is given his old job back and told to divert the press by making it seem like Gwen and Eddie are getting back together.
The Hollywood stuff in general and the junket scenes in particular are the film's funniest material. "America's Sweethearts" delights in skewering the studio publicity machinery and the unknowing idiocy of some of the junket press. It's a world where everyone is on the take and duplicity is such a habit that no one even remembers what the truth is anymore.
As perhaps the sanest person in this universe, Roberts has a lot of fun as the initially down-market Kiki, an earnest worker bee with glasses and a frizzy pony tail who has just lost 60 pounds (be prepared for fat-suited flashbacks) but retains a romantic crush on brother-in-law Eddie.
All the actors in "America's Sweethearts" do well, but they are let down by a script that loses focus as things play out and a tone that verges toward the sour. While the romantic complications are fun at first, the relationship material is never this film's strongest point, and as the psychodrama increases, the humor lessens.
In a bit of a parallel to their earlier "Analyze This," Crystal and Tolan have been frankly unable to successfully develop their initial fine idea. Director Weidmann disappears for most of the film, and when he comes back as part of a contrived, makeshift ending, you wish he hadn't. "America's Sweethearts" is entertaining as far as it goes, but it just hasn't figured out how to go far enough.
MPAA rating: PG-13, for language, some crude and sexual humor. Times guidelines: lots of lewd and surprisingly off-color gags.
Julia Roberts: Kiki Harrison
Billy Crystal: Lee Phillips
Catherine Zeta-Jones: Gwen Harrison
John Cusack: Eddie Thomas
Hank Azaria: Hector
Stanley Tucci: Dave Kingman
Christopher Walken: Hal Weidmann Revolution Studios presents a Roth/Arnold production, a Face production, released by Columbia Pictures. Director Joe Roth. Producers Billy Crystal, Susan Arnold, Donna Arkoff Roth. Executive producers Charles Newirth, Peter Tolan. Screenplay Billy Crystal & Peter Tolan. Cinematographer Phedon Papamichael. Editor Stephen A. Rotter. Costumes Ellen Mirojnick. Music James Newton Howard. Production design Garreth Stover. Senior art director Chris Cornwell. Art director Denise L. Dugally. Set decorator Larry Dias. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.
In general release.
To analyze this, get a spin doctor.
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