Alex deduces WHAT JUST HAPPENED? was pretty damn fun if not spectacular!

"What just happened?" is a nice phrase for summing up the speed at which things can change in Hollywood. One minute - or to be more precise, for 101 minutes - Robert De Niro's likeable, put upon producer Ben is juggling the director from Hell (Michael Wincott), a ball-breaking boss (Catherine Keener) and a star who refuses to shave off his beard in time for principle photography (Bruce Willis), and the next Brad Pitt wants him to make a project about a flower arranger and he's right back on top. As a result, it's hard to take WHAT JUST HAPPENED? as anything other than light entertainment, which is disappointing given it's based on the memoir and subsequent script by Art Linson, the producer behind FIGHT CLUB and HEAT, and from the veteran director Barry Levinson (RAIN MAN, GOOD MORNING VIETNAM). I expected WHAT JUST HAPPENED? to be more hard-hitting, that names would be named and that something new would be added to the Hollywood insider genre. Instead, it's easy to imagine the people that these characters are based on watching the movie, laughing obliviously and thinking to themselves, "I know someone like that". Of course Linson isn't going to shoot his career in the head for the sake of one movie, but still, I was hoping for something edgier. Speaking of edge, Sean Penn is the first of many self-effacing cameos in the film, with Penn sending himself up as the kind of actor who will sign on to any movie provided it's perceived as having "edge". The film and edge in question comes from Wincott's director with a comedy British accent who commits the cardinal sin as far as Hollywood is concerned. That's right, he kills the dog. How do you salvage a movie that has that as its ending? That's the situation Ben finds himself in. De Niro plays the straight guy to the rest of the cast and does a good job at eliciting the audience's sympathy for Ben as he tries to balance the craziness of working in Hollywood with a family life. His one laugh out loud line is when he's propositioned by Moon Bloodgood in a men's bathroom. Bloodgood plays an actress who's willing to do anything, including Ben, to make it in the movies - perhaps strategically sending up her own image as all looks and no talent before her starring role in next year's TERMINATOR SALVATION? Bloodgood says something along the lines of, "I want you to know that I'm not just another floozie. I went to Harvard." to which De Niro deadpans, "That's a good school." Most of the laughs come from the hirsuite Willis. Perhaps surprisingly, not in the scene where he throws a tantrum in a wardrobe department, which Levinson seems to want to be the centre piece of the film, but instead in the various moments of quiet menace where, for reasons best know to himself, he tries to keep his beard through intimidation. I have a lot of time for both De Niro and Willis in comedies, but if you don't, you're probably best giving WHAT JUST HAPPENED? a miss. The film is being hailed as a return to form for Levinson. I didn't see either MAN OF THE YEAR or ENVY - although I did see Levinson's hilarious Mastercard advert with Jerry Seinfeld and Superman, remember that? - but that's because it was obvious from the marketing that they were going to be bad. So in that respect I can confirm that WHAT JUST HAPPENED? is at least a return to BANDITS form, if not RAIN MAN or GOOD MORNING VIETNAM. It's an entertaining 102 minutes, but without ever going for the jugular, it won't be able to escape the accusation that like most Hollywood memoir movies, it's self-indulgent. WHAT JUST HAPPENED? has been and gone already in the States - "What just happened?" indeed - but is on general release in the UK from November 21.


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