America's Sweethearts

Rated: PG-13
Runtime: 1 Hour and 42 Minutes

Reviewer: Dale
Grade: B-

"America's Sweethearts" can best be summed up with the scene where Billy Crystal's crotch is lovingly licked by a Doberman Pincher on Prozac. Sure, it's funny. But couldn't the filmmakers have used this plot to a much better effect? Couldn't this cast be used at the service of a few funnier jokes? Any old movie could have a character getting his crotch licked by a Doberman. I was just hoping for a little something more from this one. Sure, I laughed, but.......

"America's Sweethearts" is basically a genteel, routine romantic comedy in a biting satire box. And that's too bad. Because the idea behind the movie holds genuine promise. A high-profile Hollywood couple (Catherine Zeta Jones and John Cusack) has called it quits. Now the last movie they've made together is coming out and they have to join forces in order to promote it.

Not only that, but the movie is being held hostage by its eccentric genius director (played knowingly by Christopher Walken). From the way Walken plays this character, you just know that he's met a guy like this at some point. He just gets far too many little details right.
Billy Crystal (who co-wrote the movie with Peter Tolan) plays the press agent for both of them, a man who must make it look like the two of them are on the verge of getting back together because, apparently, that is the only reason that anyone will go see the movie.
So far, so funny. Right? Well, then Julia Roberts shows up and the movie just goes down a notch. Now, hold on! Let me explain myself! Okay? Julia is fine, and she's refreshing as always to watch, but the moment she sets foot onscreen, the film turns from a fairly fresh Hollywood satire (no one's going to be confusing it with "The Player", but it's still not bad) into a routine romantic comedy. Of course John is going to fall in love with Julia. She's Julia. And then it just turns into this love triangle and it's not that original. Not at all, actually. John and Julia have a little chemistry, but not as much as John and Minnie Driver had in "Grosse Pointe Blank" or Julia and Hugh had in "Notting Hill". When the two of them are onscreen together it's cute, but we wish the movie were where it should be: showing us the behind the scenes on all this juicy Hollywood happenings.

The film is directed by a guy who owns a movie production company rather than a genuine director, and it feels like it. A real director may have turned this into gold, excising more of the lovey-dovey stuff for the stuff that works better. None of the characters are that three-dimensional, either. Catherine is a whiny, self-centered bitch. That's it. Julia is a sweetie. Period. John is a....well, John is a nut. John was about as good as he could be, considering the script. The director must have thought it was funny in every other Cusack movie where he goes off the rails and just goes berserk. But, you see, that sort of thing is funnier when the movie builds up to it. Instead, the movie just has him wigging out all the time and it gets a bit tiresome. He's charming, now he's nuts, now he's charming again, oh, wait, no, he's nuts again. Sigh. Respect the man and give him something more to work with. And Hank Azaria looks like even he is trying to figure out what the hell he's trying to do here. He's supposed to be a Latin lover and a stud. Now, I love Hank. He's hilarious and I wish he were in more movies. But expecting us to swallow him as a Latin lover is a bit absurd. If you want that, give us Antonio Banderas. That would be pretty funny.

I knew that this movie was in trouble when, by the end of any given scene, I had forgotten what the purpose of the scene was. Characters change motivations and entire psychologies from scene to scene. In one scene, Cusack is professing his love for Catherine. In the next, he's fantasizing about killing her. Would you not agree that the script has some problems? This movie has little in the way of point and only a threadbare sense of purpose. It's rather like a hyperactive spaniel chasing its own tail across the living room floor. Sure, it's fun to watch. But you'd like there to be some point to it all.

Whenever Stanley Tucci is onscreen as the studio mogul, that's when we get a sense of the movie that this could have been. He's a great, bloodthirsty bastard here. I wanted more of him. Like the moment where Billy Crystal tells him that Cusack might commit suicide and his eyes light up. "Maybe he'll do it at the premiere!" Tucci says, with a gleeful grin. Crystal then shoots him a look and he says he was just kidding, though he doesn't look too convincing.

A studio head trying to get a star to commit suicide to save his studio. Now THERE is a movie waiting to be made! Get the guys from "Election" or "The Player" to make it, and we've got comic gold. Not the homogenized and sanitized version of Hollywood politics that we are treated to here. It's like "The Player", without bite. Hell, "Singin in the Rain" had more fangs than this movie. And it had basically the same plot, only it was about a gazillion times better. Rent that one instead. Or buy it. It's worth it. This one has its moments....I just wish there were more of them.