It's truly the mark of a terrible movie when a studio can't seem to even get one "quote-ready" reviewer to praise the release, or if they actually do get some quotes to use, they're from the critic working for the Iowa Crop Report. All of this is brought into focus in "America's Sweethearts", a romantic comedy set around a chaotic press junket for a film that may or may not exist.
"America's Sweethearts" is directed by former studio head (now head of production company Revolution) Joe Roth, written by Billy Crystal and Peter Tolan and starring the heavy star-power of Julia Roberts, Catherine Zeta-Jones, John Cusack and the previously mentioned Crystal. The film actually starts off with some promise as the studio system is parodied nicely, including a funny performance from Stanley Tucci as a studio head. The problem is that the director of the latest film that the studio has sunk 80 million plus into (played quite well by Christopher Walken) is running far behind on schedule. The footage that he's sent in includes...the credits (along with a note that says "these can also be in blue."). The film, called "Time Over Time", stars America's favorite screen couple, Eddie Thomas (John Cusack) and Gwen Harrison (Catherine Zeta-Jones). Their break-up has brought their careers down quickly and the only hope for both of them is if Gwen's assistant/slave/sister Kiki (Julia Roberts) can bring them both together at the request of movie publicist Lee(Crystal).
A film about promotion has been promoted rather differently than the film itself actually is. To explain: the trailers for "America's Sweethearts" play it up as a light Summer romantic comedy when it really isn't. It's somewhat romantic, but often rather bitter and angry as Cusack's paranoid screen star wants to get back together with Zeta-Jones' ego-driven glamour girl, but she's moved onto Hector (Hank Azaria, playing another cartoonish character) and after an accident, she thinks that Eddie is out to do away with her. Obviously, it's only a matter of time before Eddie realizes that he's liked sister Kiki all along (even when she was 60 pounds heavier, shown in flashback) - the only problem is getting to that point.
Where the film started off quite amusing and occasionally funny, I watched it literally sink lower and lower as the running time clicked away. Like Steve Martin's script for the Hollywood parody "Bowfinger", the attacks on the Hollywood system are kept at a light volume and are obviously meant not to offend anyone. Some of the worst jokes that made me cringe in the trailer have also unfortunately made it into the final product (including the worst joke of the year - when Crystal finds out Roberts's character has lost 60 pounds he goes, "60 pounds? That's a Backstreet Boy!") Junkets were also shown in the Julia Roberts movie "Notting Hill", but only in a bit that lasted a few minutes and that's what "Sweethearts" feels like, a bit that was stretched out too far and wrapped in a bland romance. As great an actor as Cusack is (and his last two movies have been gems), he doesn't connect with either Zeta-Jones(who stared with him in "High Fidelity") or Roberts. The only two stars who seem to have chemistry are Crystal and a rather angry dog.
Performances are suprisingly uninspired for a movie with such star power. Everyone seems to be doing their own thing; Cusack plays his edgy qualities quite well (although there's a joke involving a cactus that's downright embarassing), while Zeta-Jones attempts to play mean-spirited; Roberts smiles a lot while Crystal plays, well, Crystal. I've never liked Billy Crystal in a film and I still don't. It's amazing though, to see him on the Today show and be incredibly funny just riffing and then see him on-screen and having his own material often fail. He seems to hit every joke with despiration - the filmmakers could have made it easier on him to have "applause" flashing at the bottom of the screen after every gag, not that that would have brought much of a response. Roberts plays the usual Roberts character quite well, although she was light years funnier and more vibrant in "My Best Friend's Wedding", which is an example of a romantic comedy that really clicked. Even poor Seth Green, so funny in the "Austin Powers" series and elsewhere, gets little to do.
"America's Sweethearts" had quite a bit of potential, but unfortunately it seems to have gone sour.