America's Sweethearts (2001) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

I think this movie suffered from great expectations. You have Cusack and Walken, and a lot of talented supporting players, and the humor of Billy Crystal, and people thought it was going to be another When Harry met Sally. Truth is, though, that Billy Crystal has never been much of a screenwriter, and he's been funniest in other people's work. Contrary to the common perception, he didn't write City Slickers (although he wrote the sequel), and his other best work was in  films like Princess Bride and When Harry Met Sally, neither of which he scripted.

The problem isn't being funny. He can be very funny.

But a screenplay of this sort requires more than 50 good one-liners. It requires characters you can believe in, situations that develop naturally, and a resolution that brings you satisfaction. Those are the hard parts for a guy who is essentially a joke writer. I think this movie fails because the Catherine Zeta-Jones character doesn't work. She's more pitiable than detestable. She seems to be the type of person who just can't take care of herself, and has never even developed any value system. She's not a conniving bitch so much as a shallow twit. That is an important flaw, because this entire movie hinges on a long set piece in which she gets her due. Because she is more pathetic than evil, the twenty minutes of retribution seems unnecessarily harsh, and the scene makes me uncomfortable when I should be enjoying her comeuppance, as I enjoyed Dean Wormer's in Animal House. 

Balance, Billy. It's all about balance.

So, I guess you have to respect the critics who said that the film didn't really work. Their arguments were soundly reasoned, and they were also right about the Cusack/Roberts romance. That went nowhere. 


none, but Catherine Zeta-Jones was seen from the rear in a leotard that didn't cover her entire behind.
For me the biggest disappointment lay in the lack of edge in the humor. Billy Crystal, like Bob Hope, is a guy the Academy used to emcee the Oscars, and you know what that means. He will take very gentle digs at the Hollywood establishment, but nothing too personal or too painful. He'll lampoon the silly stuff about Hollywood, but like Hope he has been declawed and defanged, and won't dig in for the killing blows. Really making fun of Hollywood requires somebody like Michael O'Donoghue, who was willing to go for the jugular. Even John Waters did a better job than Billy in Cecil B. Demented. (You had to love Patch Adams, the Director's Cut.) Billy is too gentle. You could hire him to do the roast of your mom at her 50th birthday.

Still, I enjoyed the movie. Why? It made me laugh. There were a lot of silly moments when Billy was making fun of Hollywood. They beginning of the film showed some highlights of the films that a famous Hollywood couple had made together before their break-up, and these snippets are hilarious send-ups of the shallow Hollywood cliches, featuring such memorable films as "Requiem for an Outfielder", and "Sasha and the Optometrist".

Billy himself plays the ex-king of the studio publicists, called in for one last job to cover up the facts that the studio doesn't actually have a promised movie, and the dream couple starring in the much-delayed movie is no longer together. Well, the studio does part of the film - a title sequence, the only evidence of many months of effort and many millions of dollars, and the director has informed them that those could also be made available in blue. By the way, the auteur who directed the non-existent film is the newly discovered comic genius, Christopher Walken, who once again channels his innate weirdness in a humorous direction. 

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 2.35:1, also a pan 'n scan fullscreen version

  • several fully finished deleted scenes

Crystal arranges a junket in the desert, gets both stars together to smile for the cameras, but things fall apart in predictable ways.

OK, Billy is not an edgy satirist, and he isn't much at creating credible characters, but he's still Billy Crystal, and I'd rather listen to two hours of his jokes than watch most of the movies that cross my desk. Don't be mislead by the critical scorn for this film. IMDb voters score it 6.2, which is the right range, and the film did reach $93 million domestic gross, so somebody liked it. Sure, Cusack and Crystal and Roberts can be better, but it's an OK film if you don't burden it with great expectations. 

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: two and a half stars. Ebert 2/4, Berardinelli 3/4, Apollo 59/100 

  • Rotten Tomatoes summary. Only 29% positive reviews, and a truly weak 14% from the top guys.

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 6.2, Apollo viewers 75/100
  • With their dollars ... it did gross $93 million dollars. Budget $48 million.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C. OK comedy. The romance doesn't work, and the lead character doesn't seem to work, and there isn't much edge, but the jokes are still pretty funny, if you enjoy Billy Crystal's humor.

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