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Departing studio publicist Lee Phillips (Billy Crystal) is approached by studio head Dan Kingman (Stanley Tucci) for help. The final film starring "America's sweethearts" Eddie Thomas (John Cusack) and Gwen Harrison (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is in the can - completed shortly prior to their very public break-up. The eccentric director (Christopher Walken) has disappeared with the only print and will only show the studio what he's done at the same time as he shows the press. Lee calls on Gwen’s sister and personal assistant Kiki (Julia Roberts) for help. They need to persuade the needy Gwen to not only attend, but to make it seem as if the couple might be on the verge of reconciling. 

Review by David Edwards:
A few years ago now, Robert Altman made probably the defining Hollywood insider movie with The Player. Director Joe Roth uses the same insider’s perspective for America’s Sweethearts, a much lighter but still mildly interesting take on Tinseltown politics.

The vehicle is that most Hollywood of events, the press junket. We’ve all heard the stories about studios lavishing critics with free travel, accommodation and gifts. This film takes that as a starting point and then spins off into exploiting various stereotypical movie industry types for comic effect. From the neurotic studio executive to the pampered star and the nerdy publicity assistant, they’re all here; and it has to be said, for most of the movie, they provide laughs. 

Unfortunately, the film’s more biting observations are submerged in a fairly standard romantic comedy. It’s an odd blend, and one that doesn’t always work. The bland romance between the characters played by John Cusack and Julia Roberts meanders along and, while it thankfully doesn’t become too cloying, it also doesn’t offer anything in the way of surprises. Surprisingly, given its setting and subject matter, the film is quite kind to the critics themselves (perhaps fearing a critical backlash). The scribes are basically the only levelheaded people on the junket, aside of course from the Ms Roberts’ sensible Kiki.

Billy Crystal has become the male equivalent of Meg Ryan. You pretty much know his character Lee Phillips by heart, as he’s basically the same character as Crystal played in Analyze This, City Slickers and When Harry Met Sally. He’s the guy who’s always just a little bit smarter than everyone else, quick with the quips but with a heart of gold. Julia Roberts is terrific as usual, but in a far less flashy role than we’re used to from her. John Cusack has fun as Eddie, while Catherine Zeta-Jones gives the impression she didn’t need much rehearsal to play the self-obsessed Gwen. It’s the minor characters though who end up just about stealing the show. Hank Azaria is hilarious as Hector, Christopher Walken is suitably manic as the reclusive director who’s apparently a fan of the Unabomber, and Alan Arkin has a wonderful cameo as Eddie’s new-age counsellor.

In terms of extras, the disc is a bit light on compared with other recent releases. What there are consist of deleted scenes, trailers and cast and crew filmographies. The deleted scenes are definitely worth a look, as they are in many cases funnier than some of those left in the film, and are accompanied by an informative commentary from director Joe Roth. For once, we get a warts-and-all rundown on why he chose to delete the particular scenes.

America’s Sweethearts is a passable date movie, lifted by good performances all around. Although the story itself is rather insipid, the writing talents of Crystal and Peter Tolan keep the gags coming and their observations on Hollywood are usually acute, if not necessarily entirely accurate. This certainly isn’t in the same league as The Player, but it’s a reasonably diverting romantic comedy nonetheless.

Published May 2, 2002

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CAST: Billy Crystal, Julia Roberts, John Cusack, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Hank Azaria, Stanley Tucci


RUNNING TIME: 102 minutes

SPECIAL FEATURES: Deleted scenes, trailers and TV spots, cast and crew filmographies, language selection

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: April 30, 2002

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