In one of his more interesting recent turns, Robert De Niro plays high-powered but slowly sinking producer Ben, a guy overwhelmed by diva directors, petulant actors, heartless corporate masters, tasteless foreign financiers and an ex-wife who can't forgive him his excesses in the light of all this.
The film follows Ben on a particularly harried week. With a Bluetooth attached, he's driving around Los Angeles in his SUV, juggling multiple projects that are verging on collapse while his home life's in total ruin. He's got a gritty indie crime drama that stars Sean Penn (who plays himself here) and is directed by childishly temperamental Jeremy (Michael Wincott), who refuses to recut the film's downer ending. When the ball-busting studio chief (Catherine Keener) demands that violent bits get trimmed, Jeremy throws a table-pounding tantrum, but Ben's the one who gets hammered. Worse, he's got a big-budget action flick ready to roll, except that its star Bruce Willis (also as himself) angrily refuses to shave off his ZZ Top-thick beard, citing "artistic integrity."
Plenty of other talented actors appear — including Stanley Tucci and John Turturro — occasionally in wickedly funny bits, which, somehow, feel castoff.
Ultimately the weight of the movie rests on De Niro's broad, sagging shoulders. But his gloomy presence drags scenes down and you can't believe he'd ever take this kind of crap from anyone. An actor with a lighter touch might have helped.
While Levinson used to make funny movies (Diner, Good Morning Vietnam), his heart's never been in comedy because too much pathos kills his punch lines. His impressive ability to swiftly suck funniness out of any situation is the biggest problem, with drama too intense to recognize it's supposed to be brutally sharp satire.
Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to email@example.com.
We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Detroit Metro Times. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Detroit Metro Times, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Detroit Metro Times works for you, and your support is essential.
Our small but mighty local team works tirelessly to bring you high-quality, uncensored news and cultural coverage of Detroit and beyond.
Unlike many newspapers, ours is free – and we'd like to keep it that way, because we believe, now more than ever, everyone deserves access to accurate, independent coverage of their community.
Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing pledge, your support helps keep Detroit's true free press free.