Watching L.A. Story, you can't help but feel renewed anguish over the direction that Steve Martin's career has taken him since the early Nineties – The Pink Panther? Not one, but two incarnations of Cheaper By The Dozen? The muted brilliance of Shopgirl and the goofy charm of Bowfinger aside, Martin's been in a creative holding pattern (although that's probably a charitable assessment; others might liken it to perpetually circling the drain). Films like these make one yearn for the days when Martin didn't feel the need to take roles solely for the paycheck - unless of course these stints in brainless Hollywood fare is some kind of ironic joke on us all; I wouldn't put it past this wild and crazy guy.
Martin stars as Harris K. Telemacher (a play on Teleprompter?), a "wacky" Los Angeles TV weatherman who finds himself unemployed after pre-taping the weekend weather report on the rainiest weekend of the year. With his professional and personal lives in utter disarray (his long-time girlfriend Trudi - played by Marilu Henner - is cheating on him with his agent, Frank Swan - played by Kevin Pollak), Harris is faced with a bleak outlook - until he chances upon meeting Sara McDowell (Martin's then-wife Victoria Tennant) a British journalist on assignment, instantly falling in love. Fearing he has no chance with the intelligent beauty, he finds unexpected help from the last place he'd think to look: the city of Los Angeles and a cheeky, "talking" billboard.
With an opening shot that pays tongue-in-cheek homage to Fellini's La Dolce Vita, L.A. Story establishes itself early on as a cerebral comedy with a taste for the surreal (dig those pseudo-"Dragnet" titles sprinkled through the movie) – Martin's razor-sharp observations about life in early-Nineties Southern California are biting and perhaps most amusingly, still feel pretty accurate today. The cast is superb - Martin's TV weatherman is a confused, yearning individual who only wants simplicity and happiness; Henner, Pollak, Richard E. Grant, Larry Miller, Sam McMurray and Sarah Jessica Parker all register memorably, tapping into the same off-kilter vibe maintained by director Mick Jackson.
Functioning on a number of levels as a film – surprisingly dense Shakespearean dissertation, sweet-natured romantic comedy and fanciful drama – L.A. Story is a beautiful, fractured experience that has only grown richer with age; it's one of Martin's truly classic works, a dramedy that's as poignant as it is weirdly funny.
Despite being 15 years old, L.A. Story looks pretty sharp – the digitally remastered 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer doesn't suffer from any major defects; hints of grain here and there are the only noticeable visual distraction and overall, it's a solid, film-like image.
The film's score, composed by Peter Melnick, is greatly enriched by Enya's contributions, which thanks to the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, sounds lush and full with the crackling dialogue heard clearly, free of distortion. Also onboard is a Dolby 2.0 stereo soundtrack and optional English and Spanish subtitles.
Allow me to get this off my chest up front: no freakin' Mick Jackson, Steve Martin or Victoria Tennant commentary? It's hardly fair to tag this DVD release as an "anniversary" edition with only the cursory participation that's on display here. It's not much, but it's better than nothing: the 12 minute, 14 second "The Story of L.A. Story" details the production of the film, while the moderately unique "The L.A. of L.A. Story" follows production designer Lawrence Miller around to 10 different locations used in the film, including the Bel Age hotel, Long Beach, Burbank, the clothing store Now!, Harris's house, the KYOY TV station, the Ambassador Hotel, the Hard Rock Cafe and more. 16 deleted scenes and two versions of the alternate ending (with or without text) are here, playable separately or all together, as is the five minute, 30 second vintage EPK from 1991. Rounding out the disc is the L.A. Story teaser and theatrical trailers, along with six TV spots, and trailers for Swimming With Sharks: 10th Anniversary Edition, A Good Woman and Moonlighting: Season 3.
He sure doesn't make 'em like this anymore; Steve Martin's wonderfully droll turn as failed TV weatherman Harris K. Telemacher is but one of the many joys of the underrated classic L.A. Story – a film that's deservedly won itself a loyal cult audience, it arrives on a so-so DVD that will hopefully bring it to the attention of a new generation. On the strength of the film alone, highly recommended.