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"AMERICA'S SWEETHEARTS"
(2001) (Julia Roberts, Billy Crystal) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Comedy: A recently fired public relations professional is asked by a movie studio to arrange a press junket for a film that no one's seen and whose two married stars are on the verge of divorce.
PLOT:
Gwen Harrison (CATHERINE ZETA-JONES) and Eddie Thomas (JOHN CUSACK) are a married, Hollywood couple known as "America's sweethearts" and have appeared in numerous popular films together. Unfortunately, they're headed for divorce due to the pampered and self-centered Gwen having an affair with a Spanish actor, Hector (HANK AZARIA), some eighteen months ago, sending Eddie off to a "wellness center" where he's been trying to cope ever since.

That's not good news for studio chief Dave Kingman (STANLEY TUCCI) since the two have fallen out of public favor, putting their last and yet to be released film together, "Time Over Time" in jeopardy. Knowing he needs America to believe that the two former sweethearts are back together for the picture to be a hit, Kingman asks movie PR veteran Lee Phillips (BILLY CRYSTAL) to arrange the press junket for the film.

Lee is understandably reluctant since Kingman just fired him the week before in favor of his younger protégé, Danny Wax (SETH GREEN), and the fact that the film's Oscar winning, but seemingly deranged director, Hal Weidmann (CHRISTOPER WALKEN), won't let anyone see the film until it's unveiled before the press.

Nevertheless, and arranging to have his old job back, Lee sets out to work his magic. Setting up the press junket at a remote desert resort, Lee convinces Eddie to attend and promote the film, and calls on Gwen's personal assistant and sister Kiki (JULIA ROBERTS), to convince the starlet to do the same. As the reluctant and soon-to-be ex-husband and wife arrive on the scene, Lee does whatever he must to keep the stars and press happy, all while Kiki and Eddie soon begin to feel more than friendship toward each other.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10
It's no big revelation that many people love anything and everything to do with Hollywood celebrities. For any number of reasons, there are those who love watching them, fantasize about being them or at least with them, and eat up any semblances of news and gossip about their careers and personal lives, thus explaining the preponderance of related magazines, TV shows and websites devoted to just that.

Of course, it doesn't hurt that some of those celebrities lead soap opera style lives - or at least we're led to believe as much. It seems that every month any number of such celebrities are breaking up and then pairing off with someone else, and that leads to a public and press feeding frenzy about hearing and getting the latest scoop, rumors and - God forbid - the real truth about such matters.

It shouldn't come as much of a surprise that such pairings - where both parties work in the industry and are in the limelight - don't last. After all, with such busy and demanding schedules those people rarely have time to see each other and must then also contend with the paparazzi, the rumor mill and jealousy over the other's attractive costars in their latest pictures.

The solution would seem to be having the two working together. Yet, the "familiarity breeds contempt" problem and the dilemma of whether today's public would buy such repeat pairings pose some potential roadblocks to that. Can two Hollywood celebrities work and live together without driving each other absolutely crazy?

While that may sound like an interesting opening twist on "The Odd Couple," it's actually part of the fun and somewhat introspective premise of "America's Sweethearts." As conceived by writer and actor Billy Crystal on a press junket for "Analyze This" after being asked questions about him and Meg Ryan not appearing in more films together, the engaging and moderately entertaining film plays off a decent setup.

If you can imagine celebrities like Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn - who appeared together in many romantic comedies- having also been married at the time but facing divorce during the junket for their last film together, you'll pretty much get an idea of what Crystal ("Forget Paris," "City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly's Gold"), co-screenwriter Peter Tolan (co-writer of "Analyze This" and "Bedazzled") and director Joe Roth (the former head of 20th Century Fox and Walt Disney Studios who cut his teeth directing films such as "Coupe de Ville" and "Streets of Gold") are striving for in this screwball comedy wannabe.

Accordingly, the barbed sparks and laughs are supposedly to fly simultaneously as a reluctant studio PR man - played with the usual sarcastic and deadpan panache by Crystal ("Analyze This," "When Harry Met Sally") - tries to get and then keep the couple together long enough to promote their latest thespian endeavor. Of course, she's a self-centered starlet and he's now a neurotic mess, a potentially hilarious chemistry combo especially when her sister and personal assistant - the always reliable Julia Roberts ("The Mexican," "Erin Brockovich") - seems to be sweet on him.

There are enough amusing and laugh out loud funny moments - especially in the film's opening scenes where the many characters and the basic premise are introduced - to keep things lively and entertaining. Yet, the film does have its flat moments and the filmmakers haven't infused the proceedings with enough clever or imaginative material, let alone the properly maintained comedic momentum, to make this a classic screwball comedy along the lines of what was delivered in times past.

Rather, one's enjoyment of the film is likely to come from the little details and moments where the comedy hits just the right notes. Most of that occurs in various, funny lines of dialogue that are peppered throughout the film, such as a harried studio exec, terrifically played by Stanley Tucci ("Joe Gould's Secret," "Big Night") stating that the only genius in show business was Senor Wences (the hand ventriloquist who appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show) and the male protagonist - perfectly played by John Cusack ("High Fidelity," "Being John Malkovich") -- stating that he's a paranoid schizophrenic and thus his own entourage.

It also doesn't hurt that the film sports a terrific and highly talented cast. Besides the aforementioned performers, the film also includes Catherine Zeta-Jones ("Traffic," "Entrapment") as the pampered and sugary-sweet but insincere movie star; Hank Azaria ("Mystery Men," "Godzilla") as her volatile Spanish lover with a thick accent; and Christopher Walken ("Sleepy Hollow," "Batman Returns") as the seemingly deranged movie director who bought the Unabomber's shack from the government, moved it to his estate, and is using it as his editing bay.

Some may be surprised and/or disappointed that this is an ensemble piece rather than a prominent starring vehicle for Julia Roberts (based on the advertising that wants viewers to think that) and it certainly doesn't play with or off its premise well enough to be considered a great film, let alone anything near a classic of the genre.

Nevertheless, it's clearly enough of an enjoyable and entertaining diversion that many viewers probably won't mind sitting through it. Nothing overly special, new or particularly insightful about off-screen romance in Hollywood, but above average for what it's attempting to do and be, "America's Sweethearts" rates as 6.5 out of 10.




Reviewed July 17, 2001 / Posted July 20, 2001


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