My, that Holly-weird sure is a wacky place. The two-timing agents! The ruthless studio chiefs! The whacked-out directors, the frazzled producers, the insecure actors-- they're all part of that crazy land that we civilians only get the rarest peek inside.
Uh, not so much. These days, when every other reality show focuses on a random actor, and even 10-year-olds know what agents do, a Hollywood satire like What Just Happened feels old-fashioned, tired, and not particularly on-point. Written by Art Linson, producer of movies like Fight Club and Into the Wild, the movie is deeply entrenched within the minutiae of Hollywood, to the point that it loses all sight of what might make it interesting to outsiders. Directed by Barry Levinson with a leaden pace, the movie isn't bright enough to be a comedy, but it's too shallow to qualify as drama. The menagerie of huge stars that make up the cast only further illuminate what a failure the movie is.
Robert De Niro is muted and bland in the lead role of Ben, a producer preparing his new movie, Fiercely, for a debut at Cannes. Plans are derailed when a test screening audience hates it, the studio exec (Catherine Keener) demands new edits, and the loony British director (Michael Wincott) wants to keep the ending in which the main character's dog is shot in the head at the end. Meanwhile on Ben's next project, Bruce Willis (playing himself) is derailing the whole thing by refusing to shave his beard, and his anxious agent (John Turturro) is no help at all. Oh, and Ben's ex-wife (Robin Wright Penn) is keeping them in therapy, his daughter (Kristen Stewart) is completely distant, and a random screenwriter (Stanley Tucci) may have replaced him in his former marital bed.
It all sounds like the makings of a great farce, which explains how the star-studded trailer looks so impressive. But countless jokes fall flat due to poor pacing, and most of the rest are send-ups of Hollywood egos that might earn a smile if you hadn't heard them on Leno already. Levinson ramps up the audience's experience of Ben's anxiety with sped-up film and bright lights, but the gimmicky tricks don't do much to make Ben a person rather than a fulcrum with which to move about the movie's chaos. The people who are usually funny are funny enough here, and Bruce Willis does a decent parody of himself, but nothing in the movie is worth their effort.
Reviewed By: Katey Rich
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