Pretty Whatever

Julia Roberts's smile has probably been written about as much as the Mona Lisa's. What has been less noticed is how fetchingly, and fiercely, she plays anger. Roberts was in high dudgeon throughout most of "Erin Brockovich," and when her rage comes to the surface late in "America's Sweethearts," this old-fashioned romantic comedy finally seems sort of romantic, and almost comic. The best you can say about the rest of director Joe Roth's Hollywood comedy is that it's resoundingly so-so.

Roberts plays the self-abnegating Kiki, sister and personal assistant to vain, narcissistic superstar Gwen Harrison (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who treats her formerly plump sibling like a servant. Gwen and her estranged husband, Eddie Thomas (John Cusack), are the "sweethearts" of the title: a glam Hollywood couple who made nine hit movies together before Gwen dumped him for another leading man. Hank Azaria plays this macho Spanish lover with a funny Castilian accent, a throwback to the '30 s screwball tradition in which all foreigners were invariably foolish.

Billy Crystal, who wrote the script with Peter Tolan, plays Machiavellian press agent Lee Phillips, who has to save his job at the studio by getting Gwen and Eddie--now bitter rivals--to appear together at a press junket in the desert to promote their final movie. He must make the public think they may get together again (which the depressed, neurotic Eddie hopes for, too) as he stalls for time until the movie's wild-man director (Christopher Walken) shows up with the print. This being a Cinderella story, however, we know perfectly well it's the former ugly duckling Kiki, not the wicked sister, who will win the heart of prince Eddie.

The script, though sprinkled with some nice Crystal one-liners, plays out with uncanny predictability. Studio mogul Roth, returning to directing, has little flair for comedy, and his slapstick sequences are deadly. (It might have worked better if played with more of "Notting Hill's" casual naturalism.) The showbiz satire, coming from guys who know Hollywood so intimately, is disappointingly broad and generic--and the unveiling of Gwen and Eddie's final movie, meant to be the cream of the jest, is an embarrassing misfire. The talented cast works hard to keep this souffle from falling. Because of Roberts, "America's Sweethearts" is going to be seen by a lot of people. For best results, keep those expectations low.

America's SweetheartsColumbia
July 20
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