America's Sweethearts

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America's Sweethearts

A diehard proponent of the borscht-belt school of comedy, Billy Crystal has made a successful career out of playing to the cheap seats, most notably in his tours of duty as the mugging, shtick-slinging host of the Academy Awards. A Hollywood satire and romantic comedy that embodies the worst aspects of both genres, America's Sweethearts finds Crystal sinking to new lows of saccharine sentimentality and ham-fisted comedy, as he produces, co-stars in, and co-writes (with Peter Tolan) a big-budget, high-concept comedy only a publicist could love. Joining Crystal and Julia Roberts, John Cusack and Catherine Zeta-Jones lead a large, wasted cast, playing a beloved screen couple whose off-screen relationship has disintegrated, sending Cusack on a zany downward spiral. Convinced that their long-delayed latest film will be successful only if the couple publicly reunites, studio head Stanley Tucci hires master publicist Crystal to play matchmaker, a process complicated by Cusack's growing affection for Jones' sister/assistant (Roberts). A comedy with more stars than laughs, Sweethearts boasts name talent not only in its lead roles, but also in a supporting cast brimming with some of the best comic actors in filmdom, including Seth Green, Hank Azaria, Alan Arkin, and Christopher Walken. But Crystal and director/studio head Joe Roth give them scant material. Though a nimble and quick-witted comic actor, Green mainly twitters about in the background as Crystal's eager sidekick, while Azaria is embarrassing as a dim-witted, crazy-talking Latin lover who makes Crystal's SNL character Fernando Lamas look like a César Chávez-esque icon of Latino dignity. While no one in the cast is well-served by the material, Arkin seems particularly wasted as the sort of aphorism-spouting New Age guru who would have been considered retrograde and dated back when Crystal was mincing it up on Soap. Cusack and Roberts fare slightly better as the underwritten leads, but like everyone in America's Sweethearts, they suffer from Crystal and Tolan's tendency to see characters as two-dimensional shtick conduits rather than human beings. It's fitting, in a sense, that Crystal's character excels at orchestrating shameless Hollywood spectacles. America's Sweethearts is more an example of Hollywood folly than an indictment of it.

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