America’s Sweethearts

Stars: Julia Roberts, John Cusack, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Billy Crystal, Hank Azaria
Director: Joe Roth
Writers: Billy Crystal and Peter Tolan

With stars like these, it has all the makings of a mega hit romantic comedy but it proves to be a near-miss because it’s energy and fun quotients dissipate between halves and it just seems nasty, overdone, and a little bit stupid. But, there are some very funny bits in it and John Cusack and Julia Roberts manage some nice chemistry together.

Cusack plays Eddie Thomas and Catherine Zeta-Jones is Gwen Harrison, a husband and wife acting team that plays to obsessed fans the world over. The problem is they’ve had a nasty split and in the 18-months they’ve been separated, they’ve lost much of the public’s good will. Gwen has been involved with a former co-star, the lisping Spaniard, Hector (Hank Azaria), and Eddie has been ensconced in a wellness clinic run by a makeshift guru (Alan Arkin of all people), trying to iron out his anger and regain what’s left of his sanity.

The final film they made together is about to open and studio chief Dave Kingman (Stanley Tucci) can’t get crazed director Hal Weidmann (Christopher Walken) to show anybody the film. Weidman holds the print hostage, willing only to show the film at the upcoming Las Vegas press junket. So Kingman calls upon master publicist Lee Phillips (Billy Crystal), the man he just fired, to save his neck and his stars’ careers. What does Lee do? He plans to distract the press from the missing film by keeping them busy, well-fed and obsessed with the false impression that stars Eddie and Gwen might be reconciling. Helping Lee along the way is the unwitting Kiki (Julia Roberts), Gwen’s sister, a former fat person who serves as Gwen’s besieged personal assistant, forced to cater to Gwen’s every whim while hiding her own secret crush on Eddie.

Lotta says: Look for some very funny dialogue and witty scenes revolving around the stupidity of press junkets. But the funny leaves off when the truth of the situation hits home. Stars are pompous and demanding; press junkets are absurd – pity the poor stars who have to put up with them. The story is uncomplex fluff. Cusack and Roberts fare best; Crystal does a nice job as the duplicitous P.R. guy. Overdone are Azaria’s character and the scenes with the Doberman you may have glimpsed in the trailers. Zeta-Jones has the thankless job of playing the cranky diva. Not bad; just not good enough.

Reviewed 7/20/01