this movie might seem an oddball choice for me to watch or review, but bear with me. this is a film i used to own on vhs tape, back when people bought movies and on tape. i bought it at a smiths grocery store in utah back when grocery stores had ‘video departments’ and sold their cast off movies in those goofy, over sized, clear plastic containers.
i bought it because i was in college, majoring in film, and it was written by joe eszterhas. i thought it bore a look. so i paid 9.99 for it. i never watched it. i have a huge book on my shelf called ‘hollywood animal’, also by eszterhas, which i also have never read.
he was in the news recently because mel gibson went on an angry rant in costa rica and eszterhas’ teenaged son recorded it.
but i never watched that tape. i had never seen this movie until tonight. at some point i liquidated my collection of video tapes and that profit financed the down payment on my first home, in florida. then recently i was listening to chris hardwick’s the nerdist podcast, and in a throwaway line, hardwick said something demeaning about this film. it simply reminded me that i had never watched it. so i downloaded it.
it’s called burn hollywood burn: an alan smithee film.
what does that ‘alan smithee” business mean? alan smithee was the only pseudonym the director’s guild would allow a director to assume if he wanted his name removed from a picture, for whatever reason. these reasons could be that the film was edited without the director’s consent, the director was unhappy with it in some way, what have you.
some famous movies throughout film history to bear this credit: dune, the mighty ducks, let’s get harry, and backtrack.
anyways – this movie comes after basic instinct, which brought eszterhas wide acclaim, and showgirls, which brought him wider disdain. he must have had a deal that the studio had to fulfill to get this made.
it tells the story of a director, unfortunately and actually named alan smithee (eric idle), who has made a movie starring sylvester stallone, whoopi goldberg and jackie chan. instead of buddy cops, they are a trio of cops. the movie is called, of course, trio.
the film is a fake documentary format show in a wild style. although the characters are talking directly to the camera, they continue their lives. a producer still keeps getting a blow job, keeps going on with his boxing training, keeps driving his car and talking to a camera far to his left, and all the while chomping on a cigar.
the technique is a little off putting, but after a while i bought in and found myself laughing.
this film has an amazing cast. apart from the actors in the fake film, who play parts in the fake film and act as themselves in interview segments, eszterhas himself is here. ryan o’neal is the amped up, coked up producer. real-life agent and part time funny guy gavin polone plays an agent. the great stand up comic richard jeni plays a studio honcho.
in the film, alan smithee is angry with the studio for their edit so he steals the negative and flees. he’s the subject of a manhunt, which is headed by an anthony pellicano-like private eye, deadpan-ly played by harvey weinstein himself. yeah – you read that right. harvey weinstein plays a role here. who is harvey weinstein? he and his brother created miramax.
at a chance meeting at a gas station, smithee meets a black actor with connections to the ‘brothers brothers’, a pair of underground black film makers, cheekily played by public enemy’s chuck d and coolio. they act as a go between, before alan smithee gets briefly committed to the keith moon home for the criminally insane.
the plot sounds silly. and it is. and all the characters are very, VERY thinly veiled. this isn’t a great film, but it’s funny enough make you forget it’s a bad movie in many ways.
it features many cameos and small parts that, for 1997, are quite remarkable. robert evans plays what i hope is a parody of himself… but looking back … he might just be playing himself. still, it was fun.
the film had a couple of revelations to me. the first was that richard jeni was not just a great comic but a truly gifted comic actor. he steals every scene he’s in and is hilarious. he took his own life in 2007.
the second was that ryan o’neal and sylvester stallone can be downright funny – even, and especially when parodying themselves.
the film was directed by the great arthur hiller. he was once the head of the director’s guild and directed such films as love story (produced by robert evans and starring ryan o’neal) and the out of towners.
this film is worth a look IF you are a cinephile. if you are just watching it to watch it and maybe laugh, skip it. it’s not for you.