Director Walt Price (William H. Macy) has been forced to relocate his period drama to the town of Waterford. But his hopes for a smooth shoot are immediately dashed when Waterford's advertised old mill, a key part of the film, turns out to have been burnt to the ground 40 years earlier. The movie's screenwriter, Joseph Turner White (Philip Seymour Hoffman), then has to rework the script, even as he begins to feel that his vision is being eroded by Hollywood. The lead actress (Sarah Jessica Parker), meanwhile, has changed her mind about doing the movie's nude scenes and the lead actor (Alec Baldwin) is indulging his penchant for underage girls.
Unlike "The Player," "State and Main" prefers to go easy on its targets. There are no out-and-out villains here, except for a local politician (overplayed by Clark Gregg) who tries to squeeze the movie crew. Conversely, Mamet doesn't make the mistake of overstating the virtues of small-town life; the denizens of Waterford are a pretty savvy bunch who know what's what.
"State and Main" offers a welcome group of arresting personalities and performances, including Macy's increasingly desperate director, the film's tough-guy producer (David Paymer) and its likable writer who, as played by Hoffman, makes for a wonderfully unlikely but sweet leading man. Mamet could have punched up the film's humor with a little more bite, and the pacing is sluggish at times, but its charms are manifold. Starring Alec Baldwin, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Sarah Jessica Parker and William H. Macy. Directed and written by David Mamet. Produced by Sarah Green. A Fine Line release. Comedy. Rated R for language and brief sexual images. Running time: 90 min. Opens 12/22.