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From November 2001
Film Review

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AMERICA'S SWEETHEARTS
3 Stars

Cusack, Catherine and Julia: sweet!
Crystal clear and sugar sweet

Official UK site (Columbia)

STARS: Julia Roberts, John Cusack, Billy Crystal, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Hank Azaria, Stanley TucciDIRECTOR: Joe Roth SCREENPLAY: Billy Crystal and Peter Tolan
CERTIFICATE: 12 • DISTRIBUTOR
& IMAGE Copyright: Columbia
RUNNING TIME: 1hr 23mins
OPENING DATE (UK): October 19

This is such a tasty idea. A romantic comedy that exposes the hell of the movie junket, the hypocrisy of the PR biz, the narcissistic tantrums of the film star. It’s like taking the junket scene in Notting Hill with Hugh Grant as the flailing Horse and Hound journalist and exploding it into a whole movie. With Crystal as the screenwriter, how could it fail?

Well, it does. Not that this isn’t really great fun with a really great cast but, because this exploits every clunk-click clique trick in the book, Sweethearts surfaces with splatters of egg all over its pretty little face.

Tucci is the studio head who, having sacked his ace PR Billy Crystal, has to get him back to co-ordinate a nightmarish scenario. Their latest film’s nutty director (Christopher Walken) has refused to deliver his finished print until the day of the junket. Worst, the film’s stars, golden couple Kiki (Zeta-Jones) and Eddie (John Cusack), have split up since filming wrapped, and are refusing to talk to each other or the press. Crystal’s brief is to get the couple back together to guarantee the film publicity – regardless of its quality.

To do this Billy secures the help of Kiki’s personal assistant Gwen (Julia Roberts), also her sister. Booking the junket in the middle of the Nevada desert so no one can escape, he schmoozes the stars on site and prays this is enough to keep the press entourage entertained.

And, of course, it is. With Eddie still making puppy dog eyes at Kiki, Kiki romancing Spanish stud Hector (Azaria), Gwen mooing over Eddie and Crystal on manipulative top form, we have bloke fights, bitch fights, a masturbation scene and the first screening of the new film (full of its own shocking surprises) to look forward to. Sounds smashing. The problem is director Joe Roth has no visual imagination and Sweethearts is as glossy as Max Factor’s latest product. In the midst of the peaches and cream we have the fatal flaw. Julia Roberts cannot appear in a film without it becoming her very own and her naturalism and beaming smile rides roughshod over Zeta-Jones’s attempts to play the star. That, above Ms Roberts, she can never be.

The men hold their own with more equilibrium, Crystal delivering his own lines with aplomb, Cusack as endearing as ever and Azaria, with a remarkable Spanish spit in his voice, just has to say ‘penis’ and you’re cracking up. But it’s Walken who steals the show as the eccentric Kubrick-esque ‘genius’ who manages to expose everything from the inside out.

But the performances aren’t the problem. Alongside Crystal’s satirical take on a world he knows so well, he’s managed to muddy his material by falling foul of repeatedly going for the obvious gag. A wanking scene and a ferocious ball-licking dog come straight out of gross-out farce and his treatment of Gwen (Roberts) as the once ignored fat girl, now beauty after shedding her blubber – is crass. Particularly when heartbreak sends her into eating a cardiac arrest-inducing breakfast.

It’s a shame because everything about America’s Sweethearts wills you to love it. All the ingredients are in place but somewhere along the line it, too, got lost in the desert. Instead of being a sure-fire hit, it’s ended up a wannabe.

Lórien Haynes

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Reviews © Visual Imagination Ltd 2001. Not for reproduction.

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