Hollywood movies about Hollywood are by definition self-absorbed, but there's something especially trivial about "What Just Happened?"
It's based on a book by producer Art Linson that recounts his problems on the set of "The Edge," a project made difficult in part because leading man Alec Baldwin showed up fatter and hairier than the bear that's meant to eat him at the end.
In the fictionalized "What Just Happenened" (Linson wrote the screenplay), Bruce Willis obliges as the fat, hairy, self-absorbed actor, and Robert De Niro plays Ben, an overwhelmed producer who tries to get the tantrum-throwing star to shave, slim down, and show up on time.
It's one of about several desperate battles Ben is fighting. He's babysitting a pompous British artiste whose awful movie's being made even more awful by a studio executive (Catherine Keener). His latest wife (Robin Wright Penn) doesn't want to reconcile, and may be sleeping with his good "friend."
Along the way, we get the following news flashes:
Stars are vain.
Studio execs care more about money than art.
Drugs are common on movie sets.
Hollywood players care more about success than friendship or love.
Director Barry Levinson thinks that he's reaching for something especially dark when he shows us petty Hollywood behavior at a funeral, but this has already been done in "Entourage" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm," both of which give you a better inside picture of the industry and its types.
And there's something inconsistent about a movie that pretends to critique Hollywood self-importance while asking the audience to "ooh" and "ahh" at celebrity cameos.
To advance the form of the Hollywood self-satire, you need something truly caustic - the kind of attitude that popped up from time to time in the imperfect but far more inventive "Tropic Thunder." *
Produced by Mark Cuban, Robert De Niro, Art Linson and Jane Rosenthal, directed by Barry Levinson, written by Art Linson, music by Marcelo Zavros, distributed by Magnolia Pictures.