A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
"America's Sweethearts" recycles "Singin' in the Rain" but lacks the sassy genius of that 1952 musical, which is still the best comedy ever made about Hollywood. Both movies open with profiles of famous couples whose onscreen chemistry masks an offscreen split. Both have canny studio heads and eager-beaver assistants. Both have plain little wallflowers who suddenly blossom. Both climax with sneak previews that are fraught with disaster. One difference is that the Hedda Hopper-style gossip columnist from the earlier picture is replaced by a whole junket-load of freeloading journalists in this one.
Here's a quick casting key. The movie stars Julia Roberts in the Debbie Reynolds role, Catherine Zeta-Jones as Jean Hagen, John Cusack as Gene Kelly, Billy Crystal as Donald O'Connor and Stanley Tucci as Millard Mitchell (the studio head). Added to the mix are two grotesque caricatures; one funny (Christopher Walken's auteur director), one overdone (Hank Azaria's Spanish lover). Both movies are about a troubled mega-million-dollar production that could save, or sink, the studio.
In principle, there's nothing wrong with returning to a classic for inspiration. But "Singin' in the Rain" unreeled with effortless grace, and "America's Sweethearts" lacks inner confidence that it knows what it is and where it's going. The opportunities are here for a classic comedy, but the fangs never sink in and the focus isn't sharp enough.
I was especially disappointed by the junket scene; in this season of fake critics and phony quotes, the time was ripe for savage satire, but this movie goes way too easy on the junket blurbsters. They've been invited to a remote desert location for the premiere of a movie that may not even exist; the studio P.R. ace (Crystal) claims he can distract them from the missing movie by convincing them the stars are in love again. While it's true that most junketeers care more about celeb gossip than the movies themselves, the movie goes too easy on them. One can imagine a scene, modeled on real life, where Crystal writes quotes praising the unseen movie and asks the freebie hounds to sign up for them, and they eagerly line up to claim their blurbs so they can get to the open bar and the complimentary buffet.