What Just Happened? Barry Levinson

What Just Happened? Barry Levinson
The modest pleasure of producer Art Linson's memoir about his unsuccessful tenure at 20th Century Fox, What Just Happened, comes from being able to attach names and faces to frequently occurring Hollywood horror stories. It's not news, for example, that some celebrities are prone to temper tantrums, but there is a giddy sense of voyeurism in learning that one of those celebrities is Alec Baldwin, who called Linson a "no talent motherfucker" when told to shave his Grizzly Adams beard on the set of The Edge. Likewise, it's common knowledge that studios sometimes resent finding they have bankrolled a big budget art film, but to read Linson's painful description of the studio screening of Fight Club gives a generic anecdote life. Adapting his bitter, fragmentary book into a situational comedy, Linson changes names and fictionalizes events, in the process turning his revealing stories into a typical and forgettable inside-Hollywood comedy. Without the real life edge, a primadonna movie star is just another Hollywood cliché. Robert De Niro, the hulking Goodfella, is affable but somewhat miscast as a frazzled producer torn between two nightmarish film productions, one with a pretentious director who refuses to soften his disturbing vision, the other with an egomaniacal actor who, yes, refuses to shave his beard (a role gamely played by Bruce Willis). Amidst the on-set stress, his equally chaotic personal life has him struggling to keep up on alimony payments to two ex-wives, including one (Robin Wright Penn) who he still holds a torch for. The cast (including Stanley Tucci, John Turturro, Catherine Keener and Sean Penn) is having a good time and director Barry Levinson keeps things moving at a brisk pace, helping to make What Just Happened perfectly adequate TV viewing — no less, no more. In their uneventful commentary track, Linson and Levinson alternate between describing the on-screen action and complementing themselves for crafting such an incisive portrait of Hollywood — they're clearly more interesting examples of Hollywood's self-delusion than the characters in their film. Other extras include an equally congratulatory documentary, deleted scenes and a painfully unfunny faux documentary about the film's dog character. (Alliance)