What a strange experience to review a movie targeted at movie reviewers. Just a big, dumb rom-com at heart, America's Sweethearts revolves around a junket - the interview opportunity where the world's press gather to ask the luckless actors and director the same questions day after day every 45 minutes. Notting Hill saw Julia Roberts doing the same thing, and while it allows industry types to have a laugh at each other's expense - the press fawn over dull talent in return for some free food and gift-set bribes - it can't be much of a hook to the world at large.
To grab those viewers, it needs a great story, funny set-pieces and characters you want to hang out with. As it is, America's Sweethearts limps along thanks to its star names making the most of passable farce and pratfall gags. As a satire on Hollywood, it's a toothless old dog, but at least it's a cute, cuddly one.
Joke Station Central is Billy Crystal, who co-wrote, so it's natural that he's given himself all the best lines. As the publicist, he's the manipulative one, the panicking one, and the one who gets his nuts licked by a really scary Doberman. At the opposite end of the comedy spectrum is Julia Roberts as Kiki, the sensible, humble sister and personal assistant of Catherine Zeta-Jones's Gwen. Sure Kiki's the sweet adorable one that you root for, but does she have to be so dull? And continuing the current fad of thin actresses donning prosthetic fat suits (because, you know, fat people are reeaaally funny), she wobbles around in flashbacks being entirely overlooked by John Cusack. Once again, here's Hollywood delivering the contradictory messages that it's fine to be whoever you are, but that true love can only be found in a size 10 dress.
Best performances come from Zeta-Jones and Cusack - her all beaming grins and "me, me, me", him all mumbling and hurt. Looks aside, why he should have ever been attracted to such a selfish attention junkie is never truly explored, but hey, this is romantic comedy painted with the broadest of brushes.
But get past the interplay between these four characters, and all the rest of the film is just so-so. Unremarkably shot by ex-Walt Disney Studios chairman Joe Roth and peppered with product endorsements, the film's dragged down by shameless mugging from incidental characters, reaching its nadir with Hank Azaria's lispy, Spanish lunkhead boyfriend. And although Christopher Walken belatedly puts in a joyful turn as genius auteur Hal Weidmann, he's the only high point in a final third that sinks into a mire of predictable "I love you" pronouncements and tiny-penis jokes.
Ultimately, America's Sweethearts' most impressive virtue is how its stars manage to turn some flimsy, frankly unremarkable material into a relatively enjoyable comedy.
America's Sweethearts starts with the promise of being a Four Weddings beater but quickly slumps into a formulaic rom-com spiked with a selection of jokes that randomly flip between subtle and puerile, chuckle-worthy and stillborn. Patchy.