Starring: Robert De Niro, Bruce Willis, Stanley Tucci
Directed by: Barry Levinson (“Man of the Year”)
Written by: Art Linson (debut)
When actors play themselves in movies, it can either go very well (John Malkovich in “Being John Malkovich”) or seem too gimmicky (Julia Roberts as someone who looks like Julia Roberts in “Ocean’s 12”). It really depends on how the screenwriter decides to weave them into the story.
While most of these occurrences are edited down to quick and witty cameos (Tom Cruise playing himself playing Austin Powers in “The Spy Who Shagged Me” or Billy Idol playing himself in “The Wedding Singer”), “What Just Happens” decides to make it one of the cornerstones of its script, which falls flat after your realize screenwriter Art Linson is going to milk it as much as possible.
In all honesty, “What Just Happened” is a movie about a grizzly beard. The man behind the beard: Bruce Willis (played by Bruce Willis), who refuses to shave it before the production of his newest film much to the chagrin of Ben (Robert De Niro), the film’s producer.
Willis’ facial hair is only one of the many problems Ben has on his plate as a hard-working Hollywood producer. He also has his studio chief Lou (Catherine Keener) breathing down his neck after a test audience reacts negatively to Sean Penn’s new film, “Fiercely,” which needs to be re-edited for the Cannes Film Festival. Apparently, people don’t like when movies end with a beloved animal being gunned down point blank and left to twitch and die.
While “What Just Happened” plays on the absurdity of Hollywood and the cutthroats who live and work there, De Niro’s Ben never really expands any of these ideas to more than a few shouting matches and sessions with his shrink. Everyone is supposed to represent professionals in the industry, but Linson and director Barry Levinson deliver some surprisingly amateurish scenes. What’s happened to Levinson anyway? Since winning an Oscar for “Rain Man” and giving us gems like “The Natural” and “Good Morning Vietnam” in the 80s, he’s hit rock bottom with shockingly bad movies like “Envy,” “Bandits,” and “Man of the Year.” His last memorable film was “Wag the Dog” and that was 11 years ago.
There might be no business like show business, but in “What Just Happened” there’s nothing really interesting about what goes on behind the scenes of Hollywood’s most powerful players. It’s a cynical little piece that’s all talk and no action.