America’s Sweethearts

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“America’s Sweethearts” is a romantic comedy that also parodies the film industry and was co-written by Billy Crystal. If you watched only the first five minutes of it, you’d figure all that out for yourself.

It’s certainly a romantic comedy because it features Julia Roberts. She’s allegedly a supporting character here, playing Kiki, the personal assistant (and sister) to Hollywood’s biggest star, Gwen Harrison. But since Gwen Harrison is self-centered and virtually unlikable, and is played by Catherine Zeta-Jones (whom you know is NOT a “romantic comedy” actress), you know it will be Kiki whose love life is most affected.

And whom will she fall in love with? Well, Eddie Thomas, of course. Eddie (John Cusack) was Gwen’s husband for several years and co-star for even longer, but they’ve been separated for 18 months. In that time, he’s gone off the deep end and is seeking spiritual counseling, while she is seeing a Spaniard named Hector (Hank Azaria) and has made two unsuccessful films on her own.

Now, Eddie and Gwen’s last film together, “Time Over Time,” is about to be released after a long delay. The slimy studio head (Stanley Tucci) is convinced it will flop unless audiences believe there’s a chance their beloved Eddie and Gwen will reunite in real life, too. So he recruits top publicist Lee (Billy Crystal) to organize a press junket that will make the entertainment reporters and film critics think a reconciliation is afoot — and also distract from the fact that they haven’t seen the movie yet, due to the peculiarities of the crazed, obsessive director (Christopher Walken).

The press junket is the target of the most satire. This is where media types are shmoozed and entertained for a weekend at some lush hotel, mingling with the stars of the film and getting ridiculously superficial, carefully orchestrated five-minute interviews with them. Oh, and maybe they watch the movie, too, ideally after they’ve been stupefied with glitz, glamour and food.

And how do we know it’s Billy Crystal at the script (along with Peter Tolan, who wrote for “The Larry Sanders Show”)? Because of the cornball shtick, the set-up/punch line rim-shot-style jokes, stuff you’d hear a two-man comedy team doing in the Catskills. It’s funny stuff, usually, with a few solid one-liners and many snappy bits of banter. Everyone’s a comedian in this world.

Christopher Walken continues his streak of stealing every movie he’s in. (If you’d seen “Joe Dirt,” you’d know how he saved that train wreck.) But nearly the entire cast is great, really. We know we love Ms. Julia, but what about that John Cusack? We’ve loved him for almost 20 years, and he’s just getting better. Not to mention Hank Azaria, Stanley Tucci, and Seth Green (who plays Lee’s assistant). And this is easily Billy Crystal’s best film in a while.

The only significant drawback, apart from some cheap laughs half-way through with a misleading surveillance camera, is the finale. It’s too silly, too crazy and too unreal, and is a poor match with the generally smart material that precedes it.

Still, this is a perfectly good Billy-Crystal-written-romantic-comedy-that-parodies-Hollywood. It meets its goals well enough, though it certainly doesn’t strive for much extra credit. It’s just funny enough, just romantic enough and just satiric enough to be good.

B- (; PG-13, some strong profanity, some sexual vulgarity.)

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