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(2002) (Robert Evans) (R)

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Documentary: Producer Robert Evans recounts his rise and fall from Hollywood power, fame and fortune.
Actor turned producer Robert Evans recounts his dealings in and with Hollywood from his meager early acting career in the 1950s to his role as producer and self-proclaimed savior of Paramount Pictures in the 1960s and '70s to his fall from grace as well as the love of then-wife Ali MacGraw.
OUR TAKE: 7.5 out of 10
The world - or at least the entrepreneurial/opportunistic United States - is filled with self-help gurus, advice columns, programs and packages, therapists and the like that are all intended to help people get over failure, apathy and/or depression. Since so many people experience one or more of those feelings during their lives, such "help" services have become a multi-billion dollar a year industry.

A common tactic of all of the programs and advice is to point out those who've gone through similar moments in their lives and not only survived, but also thrived. It's something of a communal, you-are-not-alone therapy designed to prove that if they can overcome such setbacks, then so can everyone else.

In such regards, "The Kid Stays in the Picture" could be the least expensive but most entertaining therapy around. For the price of a movie ticket or video rental/purchase, one can witness the amazing, compelling and amusing story of Robert Evans and his personal and professional roller coaster of a life.

If that name doesn't ring any bells, Evans was a bit actor in the 1950s who managed to turn himself into a legendary Hollywood figure who produced such notable hits as "Love Story," "Rosemary's Baby" and "The Godfather" during his and Paramount's prominent heyday back in the '60s and '70s. Drug use, being busted and then being associated by name with a murder eventually wiped away most of his fame and fortune.

Adopted from Evans' novel of the same name and narrated by the gravely-voiced man himself, the film offers a fascinating, tantalizing and often rather funny look at Evans as well as the Hollywood moviemaking machine itself.

Told in chronological order, the film - directed by Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgen ("On the Ropes") from an adaptation of Evan's novel by Morgen - mixes archival footage, film clips, imaginatively framed and animated stills and Evans' distinctive voice to drop the viewer headfirst into the Hollywood of old. Kudos should go to editor Jun Diaz ("Home Movie"), cinematographer John Bailey ("The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood," "For Love of the Game") and the rest of the crew for taking what could have been very dry visual material and turning it into something rather compelling and entertaining.

Of course, much of that also stems from Evans' life, although -- as is the case with other avant-garde documentaries -- the material that's presented needs to be taken with a grain of salt. To be fair, the filmmakers let us know this up front with a quote from Evans that states that there are three sides to every story - yours, mine and the truth - and that no one is lying, with memories shared serving each differently.

Taking that into account, the film is obviously something of a vanity piece for Evans and serves his still dominant ego. Even so, time and wisdom allow him to look back at such matters in a different context where he's not above pointing out the flaws and fallibilities of life and fame.

The producer - who has since returned to the Hollywood scene thanks to some earlier connections - toots his own horn, and watching the ego at work is compelling stuff to behold from start to finish. Yet, he's not above pointing out his failures as well, such as losing then-wife Ali MacGraw to Steve McQueen, his various box office flops and then his mistakes and resultant fall from fame.

That said and not surprisingly, the focus on the bad doesn't quite get as much screen time as does the good (although that's okay since the former is far more entertaining to watch). In addition, the turn around at the end - the resolution if you will - is given short shrift. Nevertheless, it turns out to be emotionally satisfying after spending an hour and a half with this charismatic if oily character.

While the film is accessible to all viewers, critics and serious movie buffs are the ones who will get the most out of what's offered due to the no-holds-barred, tell-all tale of one's rise and fall through the moviemaking system.

A cautionary tale of ego, fame and redemption, "The Kid Stays in the Picture" - so named for a quote from producer Darryl Zanuck in quelling an actor's mutiny should Evans remain in their film - is a terrific pseudo-documentary that's so engaging, entertaining and fascinating that you won't notice its message of dealing with whatever life might throw your way. But you'll certainly feel it afterwards. The film rates as a 7.5 out of 10.

Reviewed August 5, 2002 / Posted August 9, 2002

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