As a showbiz satire, "America's Sweethearts" is pretty pallid. It's a comedy about a bitterly broken-up, superstar acting couple being forced back together as a promotional tool for their last film as man and wife. But the plot gets co-opted by an apple-cheeked romance between the star who got dumped (John Cusack) and the put-upon, personal-assistant sister (Julia Roberts) of his spoiled, paranoid and egocentric ex-wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones).
In short, it's more "Pretty Woman" than "The Player."
The love story is winsome enough, all right. Roberts smiles busily, flushed with rosy Byronic cheer. Her adoration helps Cusack bounce back from that thing he does in darn near every movie, moping outside his ex's window in the rain. They're terribly cute together, but they could do these roles in their sleep.
As one of the targets for lambasting in this movie (the press, publicists, studio heads, self-absorbed actors, "genius" directors -- they all in the crosshairs), I was hoping for a lambasting of surgical strike derision. But the industry insider comedy in "America's Sweethearts" is painted with such broad strokes that none of it feels like more than a gentle ribbing.
Director Joe Roth -- a former studio president himself -- opens the picture with a mocking montage of scenes from the cornball romances that have starred screen couple Eddie Thomas (Cusack) and Gwen Harrison (Zeta-Jones). "Autumn with Greg and Peg" featured them strolling in Central Park a la "When Harry Met Sally." "The Bench" starred Eddie as a prosecutor making a dramatic courtroom declaration of love for defendant Gwen.
These scenes are made funnier by deliberately histrionic orchestral accompaniment. But ironically, the same kind of oh-so-magically sincere music accompanies the love scenes that come later in this very movie.
When story proper begins, Eddie and Gwen are in the throes of an ugly divorce, brought on by Gwen's ongoing affair with a greasy Spanish heartthrob (Hank Azaria). Eddie is in seclusion, trying to get his head together at a vaguely Hindi spiritual retreat where Wellness Guides say things like, "Life is like a cookie."
Meanwhile studio publicist Lee Phillips (Billy Crystal, one of the movie's writers) is pulling his hair out over the impending press junket for "Time Over Time," an ill-advised time-travel yarn and the last movie Eddie and Gwen made together. Not only must he corral his stars at a resort hotel and make them play nice for two days of mind-numbing interviews, but also he has to contend with the madman director (Christopher Walken), who is holding the movie hostage until he unveils it at the junket.
Meanwhile, Eddie sets his sites on winning Gwen back without realizing he's falling for Kiki (Roberts), the unassuming sister that spoiled, self-centered Gwen treats as a servant, shrink and on-call masseuse.
The plot movies forward in pretty elementary steps: A flashback introduces Kiki's crush on Eddie (and the unrelated, seemingly random fact that she's lost 60 pounds). Eddie mistakes Kiki for Gwen at a distance and declares "That's the woman I'm supposed to spend the rest of my life with." It's just this kind of stereotypical storytelling that turns "America's Sweethearts" into exactly the kind of movie that it's trying to mock with its behind-the-scenes nudge-nudge, wink-wink routine.
"America's Sweethearts" is passably congenial and quite amusing when it's taking swings -- albeit whiffle bat swings -- at the dog-and-pony shows Hollywood puts on to schmooze positive press out of newspapers, magazines and TV shows like "Entertainment Tonight." The stars all give the kind of endearing performances (Cusack's wounded little boy in love, Robert's unsuspecting Cinderella) that make people buy tickets to their movies. (Bravo to Zeta-Jones for bravely seeing the wicked witch thing through to the end without any cheap last-reel redemption.)
But it's disappointingly pedestrian for a movie with such ripe and easy targets for much sharper satire.
Run time: 102 mins
In Theaters: Friday 20th July 2001
Box Office USA: $93.0M
Distributed by: Columbia Pictures
Production compaines: Revolution Studios, Roth-Arnold Productions
Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 31%
Fresh: 45 Rotten: 98
IMDB: 5.7 / 10
Director: Joe Roth
Starring: Julia Roberts as Kathleen "Kiki" Harrison, Billy Crystal as Lee Phillips, Catherine Zeta-Jones as Gwen Harrison, John Cusack as Eddie Thomas, Hank Azaria as Hector Gorgonzolas, Stanley Tucci as Dave Kingman, Christopher Walken as Hal Weidmann, Alan Arkin as Wellness Guide, Seth Green as Danny Wax, Rainn Wilson as Dave O'Hanlon, Eric Balfour as Security Guard, Scot Zeller as Davis, Larry King as Himself, Steve Pink as Limo Driver, Eric Balfour as Security Guard, Marty Belafsky as Security Guard, Keri Lynn Pratt as Leaf Weidmann, Maria Canals-Barrera as Adinah
Also starring: Catherine Zeta Jones
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