America's Sweethearts

on July 20, 2001 by Jon Alon Walz
The on-again, off-again relationship between America's favorite screen couple, Gwen Harrison (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and Eddie Thomas (John Cusack), has been stuck stubbornly in the off position ever since their real-life relationship soured and Eddie tried to run Gwen over with a motorcycle--through the window of a Chinese restaurant, no less.

But now, their film for the legendary, eccentric and reclusive director Hal Weidmann (wonderfully under-performed by Christopher Walken as a Stanley Kubrick-type) is close to finally being complete--although no one has actually seen it. Weidmann, who has holed himself up with his editing equipment in the cabin formerly inhabited by the Unabomber, refuses to relinquish the footage until he is satisfied with his masterpiece.

The flummoxed studio, meanwhile, desperate for a huge PR boost for the film, convinces press-junket guru Lee Phillips (Billy Crystal) to lure the acrimonious stars back together to promote the film. He succeeds in getting them to an isolated resort in the Nevada desert, where a cadre of ethically-challenged entertainment journalists are plied with fancy gifts and free liquor in the hopes that they will write nice things about a movie they may never actually get to see. But Eddie and Gwen provide enough fireworks to guarantee Phillips all the press he can handle and more.

Julia Roberts is charming as usual as Kiki Harrison, Gwen's sister and abused personal assistant. As an actress, she manages to transcend the flat look of the film and the parade of stars around her; as a character, she anchors the plot's soapy tone and inside-Hollywood banter with a desperate romanticism and steady confidence that is played nicely just under the madness of the rest of the film.

Sadly, Joe Roth, a former journeyman director who took the past decade off to run Fox and Disney, makes his helming return with bland, generic results. Save for a few crackling wisecracks from Billy Crystal, and some moments of delicious is-she-acting-or-is-it-real insanity from Catherine Zeta-Jones, the fine cast sleepwalks through this film. Even the usually energetic and fascinating John Cusack lumbers through the material cluelessly.

This is entertainment of the most innocuous and inconsequential sort--the kind that leaves you with the feeling you get right after eating a huge piece of cherry cheesecake on an empty stomach. Starring Julia Roberts, John Cusack, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Billy Crystal. Directed by Joe Roth. Written by Billy Crystal and Peter Tolan. Produced by Susan Arnold and Donna Arkoff Roth. A Columbia release. Comedy. Rated PG-13 for language, some crude and sexual humor. Running time: 102 min

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