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Film Review: America's Sweethearts

Ooops. Maybe too much sweet at its heart...

'America's Sweethearts' desperately wants to be a love story but you are never quite sure who is in love with who. Is the film a loving homage to Hollywood itself, its inherent kookiness, sinful wealth and dazzling glamour? Is it a tribute to big screen actors-their quirks, their vanities and insecurities? We are never really sure, and the waters are further muddied because "America's Sweethearts" also markets itself as a biting satire on contemporary Hollywood mores. It wants to be sharp, elegant and debonair, but it's not even close to Altman's "The Player" in terms of worldliness and veiled spite.

Billy Crystal in America's SweetheartsThe movie centres on a glamorous screen couple whose marriage has recently dissolved, and "America's Sweethearts" references to other such ill starred couples-Nicole n' Tom, Ken'n' Em, Mel' and Don, are too arch to be funny. John Cusack and Catherine Zeta Jones play the unhappy couple, Zeta Jones with a Spanish boyfriend in tow. Julia Roberts plays Zeta Jones' put upon sister / PA / babysitter.

The performances of Cusack, Zeta Jones and Roberts in this movie betray the lack of focus in Director Joe Roth's intentions. Cusack is a fine actor who rarely disappoints and who seems to be able to draw good performances from those around him. He mugs his way through the film and his work in this film represents a regrettable dip in his career. Zeta Jones is blessed with looks which would adore any screen but she lacks comic timing. She's also far too pretty to be kittenish and she never makes anything of what could be a challenging role. Julia Roberts starts out the movie as an Ugly Duckling with risible NHS specs and dowdy duds. Two hours later the Roberts smile fills the screen and she scrubs up as a Star, which I suppose is what she is. She has never been the greatest actress but she's blessed with screen presence, an indefinable gift.

'America's Sweethearts' resolves itself at a junket held in a swish hotel in the Nevada desert. The junket ostensibly promotes Roberts' and Zeta Jones' last movie together. Christopher Walken makes a cameo appearance as the Mad Movie Director, ?la Kubrick, Altman or Lean. He tries to invest the part with irony but he comes across all goofball. Again, it will not be seen in the future one of Walken's prouder moments.

Most of the junket scenes in "America's Sweethearts" are badly conceived slapstick. There's a particularly clumsy dig at Zeta Jones' Spanish boyfriend and at Spanish men in general. Billy Crystal, one of the movies' scriptwriters, gives himself the film's best line, a gag about rabbis, poison and a murderous wife, but he gets involved in a badly judged running gag involving a mutt and fellatio. It looks even worse than it sounds.

The movie's last few frames predictably tie everything up in a sickly sweet mom and apple pie happy ending. The lasting impression is of a movie trying to be several things at once. With proper direction 'America's Sweethearts' could have cut the mustard, but in truth it's an unwieldy mess.

Anthony Morrissey

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