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De Niro doing comedy just happened
What Just Happened (Blu-ray)
Member Name: thedevilinme
What Just Happened (Blu-ray)
Advantages: Good honest De Niro turn
Disadvantages: Not that funny
Star - Robert De Niro
Run Time - 104 minutes
Certificate - 15
Genre - Clever Humor
Country - USA
A movie satire, 'What Just Happened' is loosely based on a book called 'Bitter Hollywood Tales from the Front Line', a biopic of Hollywood producer Art Linson's experiences in Hollywood, the central themes of trying to keep stars, directors, publicists and the like happy in the process of making movies clearly a tricky juggling act, a lot of egos in the air at once. We have been here before on film, of course, with films like The Player and the tedious misfire Bowfinger, and so difficult to judge these films right when you have big stars playing themselves in these send up parodies. I recall the last attempt was a right tank, Burn Hollywood Burn the bomb of the 1990s, a decade of tough opposition for that particular dubious accolade.
To get this type of film made you need an A-List star in the lead playing a fictional character and another one willing to send themselves up as his of her foil, Robert De Niro and Bruce Willis the perfect pairing for exactly that, why I rented this and their involvement probably why it got made. I have never really been convinced that De Niro is a natural comic and his timing always off, a comedy angle to his career that seemed to begin when he started to send up his stereotype with Analyze This and That. It's not as if the studios didn't offer him serious roles and he has somehow become a duff actor and so we presume he made a conscious choice to be a funny man. Every time he does that on film it just doesn't quite work for me.
Robert De Niro ... Ben
Sean Penn ... Himself
Catherine Keener ... Lou Tarnow
Bruce Willis ... Actor
John Turturro ... Dick Bell
Robin Wright ... Kelly
Stanley Tucci ... Scott Solomon
Kristen Stewart ... Zoe
Michael Wincott ... Jeremy Brunell
Jason Kravits ... Pollster
Mark Ivanir ... Johnny
Remy K. Selma ... Jimmy
Ben (De Niro), a Hollywood producer, has just suffered a poor test screening for his new film, 'Fiercely', its ending that features its main character (played by Sean Penn, who plays himself elsewhere in the film) being shot dead, along with his pet dog.
No one shoots dogs in Hollywood movies, of course, the task now for Ben to persuade junkie maverick British director Jeremy Brunell (Michael Wincott) to change the ending or studio executive Lou Tarnow (Catherine Keener) will fire them both. Brunell wants the studio to enter it at Cannes but if the scene isn't pulled then she will take over editing. Jeremy refuses, throwing a Vicadin fuelled tantrum.
Ben has other problems, finding it hard to make a clean break from his second ex wife (Robin Wright - Penn), and his current wife possibly having an affair with associate Scott Solomon (Stanley Tucci), a man who has a screenplay to sell that has Brad Pit attached to it and so Ben cant confront him on the affair or lose that deal to. On top of that Bruce Willis (as Bruce Willis) is playing up and refusing to shave his beard, which will result in the studio pulling the plug on Bens new project, the final nail in Bens career, pumping the stress levels some more as Bens photo shoot for Vanity Fair magazine as one of the top 30 producers disintegrates in front of his eyes. Any attempt to reason with Willis results in a right old torrent of abuse that puts the British directors potty mouth to shame. Ben decides to ask Willis agent (John Turturro) to reason with him and get the beard removed. As Ben heads to Cannes he is not only relying on a dog not being shot, Willis having a beard and his wife cheating on him but not having a breakdown before he gets on the plane.
For stuff like this to work you have to get the balance right in the irony to comedy ratio, sadly the movies biggest failing. I don't think it's particularly funny and I think that's the problem with the film. I think it wants to be funny. It's a good front performance by De Niro, an actor who hasn't been delivering for at least 15 years now and so good to see him do some good work, and Bruce and co playing along with it, but you never feel anyone is really happy with the script. Some of the jokes are smart but never smart enough for this type of satire. De Niro and director Barry Levison had previously worked together in a similar style film, Wag the Dog, a satirical look at a political conspiracy to fake a war to get an American President re-elected, but that far more contemporary, smart and knowing than this. It just has the feel of a project that was never really right but got made anyway because of who was attached to it, ironically the subject narrative of the film. The irony is stretched further because What Just Happened was also entered into the Cannes Film Festival, 2008, but also received muted applause, life imitating art, imitating life, you could say.
For a budget of $25 million this bombed in the theatres, making just $6.5 million back, not recovering after early DVD sales either. The audience it was aimed at just didn't want to know and that was the end of it. There's probably an interesting dry comedy here but probably still on the cutting room floor. It's an ok film but it has no real originality and magic too it and I only sat through it until the end as my ex insisted I did as she sobbed away telling me about her latest boyfriend dumping her. I wanted to remind her I felt the same way once and didn't make you sit through a film with Robert De Niro trying to be funny. But she has a swanky BlueRay player and so always worth a visit. But BlueRay makes no real difference when it's a drama movie that wants you to listen not look and so I can't say I noticed the difference, other than the fact that Katherine Keener has worse skin than Cameron Diaz. BlueRay films in this genre are there only because they just want all films to be BlurRay so you to buy another bloody DVD player, probably made by a Japanese electronics company who just so happens to own most of the shares in the film studio.
The Cape Cod Argus - "Like the perpetual insider crap shoot and big bucks blown on questionable movie fare, Levinson is willing to take his chances on that backroom and behind the scenes pathological reality show drama known as Hollywood"
The Daily Star - "Compared to the likes of Adaptation and The Player, What Just Happened? is flyweight. De Niro is amiable enough in the lead role, but he's left to trot around a story that not so much bites the hand that feeds it as licks the palm".
The Independent -"It's a shame that the film doesn't ever really take off into the stratosphere, because so many of the ingredients are funny and revealing. But this is just another case where it was a better read than a film".
The San Diego Flyer - "An insider's Hollywood story, Barry Levinson's film lacks the bite of other admired "movie movies", such as The Player".
Imdb.com - 5.9 out of 10.0 (14,454 votes)
Rottentomatos.com - Critics rated it 53% (Users 21%)
Metacritic.com - Critics rated it 54% (Users 40%)
Radio Times Film Year Book - 2/4
Leonardo Maltin Film Year Book - 3/4
Summary: Nice try but not for me
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