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What Just Happened (7/10)

by Tony Medley

As recent movies, like the execrable “Righteous Kill” and his inept performance in “The Good Shepherd” (2006), make abundantly clear, Robert DeNiro’s day as a dramatic lead are history. But he still has a future in comedy, as his work in such disparate films as The Fockers films and the Analyze films shows.

Here he continues down the comedy road as Ben, a harried Hollywood film producer with big problems. Ben’s most difficult problem, however, is the brightest light in the picture, a drug-addled, over-the-top British director, Jeremy Brunell (Michael Wincott), that Ben can’t control. He’s got a film just finished production that Jeremy wants to end one way, with Sean Penn and his dog dead, and a boss, Lou Tarnow (Catherine Keener), who demands that the dog not be shot. Then his current film has a problem with unreasonable, egotistic star Bruce Willis, playing himself, who is overweight and wearing a beard that Ben wants shaven, much to Bruce’s disagreement. Willis’ feckless agent, Dick Bell (John Turturro), isn’t much help.

To top it all off, he’s got problems with his breakup with his second wife, Kelly (Robin Wright Penn), who doesn’t want much of him, to his great consternation. And, if that’s not enough, his friend, Scott Solomon (Stanley Tucci), is sleeping with Kelly and shows not the slightest bit of remorse.

Barry Levinson has ably directed the conversion of Art Lipson’s autobiography of his years as a Hollywood Producer, from Lipson’s script, into a moderately entertaining Hollywood commentary. Satires by Hollywood about Hollywood generally are not too popular with the viewing public, but I like them, and this one is good enough (although not “Singin’ in the Rain”), mainly because of the performances of DeNiro, Wincott, and Keener, who is good enough for some kind of award consideration.

One thing I deplore, however, is listing Penn as the second lead. His role is little more than a cameo, as is Willis’. They couldn’t have been on the set more than a couple of days each, if that.