What Just Happened

Director    Barry Levinson
Starring    Robert De Niro, Bruce Willis, Stanley Tucci, John Turturro, Kristen Stewart
Release    17 OCT (US) 28 NOV (UK)    Certificate 15
2 stars


3rd December 2008

Hunter S. Thompson once said, "The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench; a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side." Exchange 'music' for 'movie' - as Bruce Willis does here - and this famed quote sums up this latest Robert De Niro/Barry Levinson combo quite succinctly. Based on the memoirs of Hollywood producer Art Linson (the man behind Heat, The Untouchables and Fight Club), What Just Happened is a satirical expose of the ridiculous realities of the movie business, and what people in the industry go through to get bums on seats just so we can pass judgement, turn our noses up and criticise their movies.

Robert De Niro plays Ben, The Art Linson alter-ego. We follow the fading Hollywood producer as he juggles his working and personal life. At one end, he's battling a facial hair issue with Bruce Willis, a controversial finale to his Sean Penn gangland movie, intimidating studio bosses breathing down his neck and spineless agents with snazzy pants and stomach problems. Life isn't too merry at the other end either - dealing with the slutty teenage daughter of one ex-wife while attending therapy sessions and discussing divorce with another, who just so happens to be sleeping with a screenwriter Ben's worked with. Welcome to Hollywood.

The thing with satire is that you have to captivate an audience to keep them entertained. Most people don't give a tuppeny fuck how a film is made, just as long as it keeps them amused - all they're interested in is the dishing of dirt. That's where What Just Happened falls down - it doesn't satirise the industry enough for it to be funny to the average viewer. Written by a man still very much part of the world he's knocking, Linson doesn't want to ridicule it too much in fear of burning his bridges. The result is a backstage pass into the dark realities of the movie biz that fails to keep us 'little people' gripped. It's too 'in' a concept; one that only appeals to those working on it.

What you can rely on however, is a solid performance from Bob De Niro, looking like an aged Tony Stark (now there's an idea for you, Mr. Favreau). De Niro convinces as the Hollywood schmuck at the end of his tether, trying to avoid the inevitable mid-life crisis while dealing with absurd situations that no one in the audience can relate to. Levison also boasts a pretty impressive call sheet - John Turturro is a neurotic, bow tie-wearing agent, while Catherine Keener puts on a fierce face as the almighty studio boss.

However, it's Bruce Willis who takes the spoils as an irate, overweight version of himself refusing to shave his Grizzly Adams beard for a lead role - an incident reportedly based on Alec Baldwin's diva-ish behaviour during filming of The Edge. It's preposterous, yes, but a perfect illustration at just how much of a cut-throat industry Hollywood really is behind all the red carpet and millions of dollars.

There are a few other scenes that impress - notably Ben driving through the LA night with the soundtrack of his latest film playing on his stereo. The music adds the tension that the film's own soundtrack would, so when he gets out of the car, it stops. Nice.

But ultimately, a film about Robert De Niro trying to get Bruce Willis to shave, or trying to get some coked-up British director to re-edit his movie, just doesn't have the endurance to keep the attention up. You'd expect a little bit more from the man who brought us the far superior Wag the Dog, and despite being just over and hour and a half long, it still manages to feel over long. If you want good satire, go speak to Chris Guest, Mel Brooks, Jon Stewart - anyone who doesn't have their fingers in the pies they're flinging.

More:  Comedy  Movies  Satire  De Niro
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