A vanity project about a vanity project, the navel-gazing comedy-drama Frankie & Johnny Are Married casts fiftysomething TV and movie writer-director-producer Michael Pressman (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret Of The Ooze, numerous David E. Kelley projects) as a veteran TV and movie director named Michael Pressman. Pressman's wife, a struggling, bitter actress edging unhappily toward the twilight of an undistinguished career, is played by Pressman's real-life wife (Lisa Chess), and the film is based on the couple's real-life experiences at mounting a theatrical non-equity production of Frankie And Johnny In The Claire De Lune, with Pressman directing and Chess starring.
Alan Rosenberg co-stars in the film and the play as what's hopefully a more obnoxious version of himself, a veteran character-actor with the manic excitability and urgent rasp of a road-show Al Pacino and the ego (but not the résumé) of a legendary thespian. Pressman is initially excited about working with the talented but mercurial Rosenberg, even after Rosenberg says he's sexually attracted to Chess, but before long, the actor is making everyone's life miserable by neglecting to learn his lines and bullying the cast and crew.
Mario Van Peebles' Baadasssss! recently waded into similarly tricky self-reflective waters with a lot more success, in no small part because it conveyed the urgency and risk inherent to taking on Hollywood and risking everything to pursue a revolutionary vision. Pressman's film, by contrast, suffers from a fatal lack of urgency. Sure, the wealthy Pressman would like to see his little production turn out well, but he never seems more than a phone call to Kelley away from lining up lucrative work. There simply doesn't seem to be much at stake here, which wouldn't be such a problem if the film could decide whether it was going for laughs or psychological drama.
At times, Pressman seems to edge toward a Larry David-style comedy of bad manners, but he never quite makes it there. Furthermore, the doughy paternalism and even temperament that make Pressman an effective and employable director/producer also make him a dull protagonist. Johnny ambles by pleasantly enough, but numerous scenes of Pressman sagely advising actors and calmly defusing runaway egos make it feel at times like an infomercial for his directorial services.