Hollywood's inner workings - the pitch meetings, the profligate sums, the egos, idiocy and swag - have been the stuff of film biz satire for eons. To say that there's a level of narcissism involved is to belabor the obvious. Movies about raging narcissists by raging narcissists - at its best, it's self-flagellation for laughs. At worst, comic preening.
What Just Happened?, adapted from producer Art Linson's juicy memoir and directed flatly by Barry Levinson, falls somewhere in the middle. A relatively low-key Robert De Niro stars as the Linson stand-in: middle-aged Ben, juggling his cell phone and his lunches, his relationships with two exes (Robin Wright Penn is one) and a teenage daughter (Kristen Stewart).
Not to mention the nutball Brit (Michael Wincott) directing Ben's movie, Fiercely, starring Sean Penn. It's an arty actioner with a horrific final scene that sends test audiences hissing angrily into the night. The director refuses to change the ending, the studio head (Catherine Keener) insists, and the deadline for Fiercely's Cannes premiere looms. What's an overextended producer in search of a hit to do?
Bruce Willis shows up as himself, delivering the eulogy at a Tinseltown memorial service, and Stanley Tucci plays a writer who seems to be a little too acquainted with Ben's adolescent. There are cutting laughs along the way, and Keener plays the hard-nosed studio chief with an insider's acumen, but, really, Entourage is better than this.
- Steven Rea