American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
''An Alan Smithee Film Burn Hollywood Burn'' is a spectacularly bad film--incompetent, unfunny, ill-conceived, badly executed, lamely written, and acted by people who look trapped in the headlights.
The title provides clues to the film's misfortune. It was originally titled ''An Alan Smithee Film.'' Then ''Burn, Hollywood, Burn!'' Now its official title is ''An Alan Smithee Film Burn Hollywood Burn''--just like that, with no punctuation. There's a rich irony connected with the title. ''Alan Smithee'' is the pseudonym that a Hollywood studio slaps on a film's credits if the original director insists on having his name removed from the project. The plot of ''AASFBHB'' involves a film so bad that the director wants his name removed, but since his real name is Alan Smithee, what can he do? Ho, ho.
Wait, it gets better. The movie was directed by Arthur Hiller, who hated the way the film was edited so much that, yes, he insisted his name be removed from the credits. So now it really is an Alan Smithee Film. That leaves one mystery: Why didn't Joe Eszterhas, the film's writer, take off his name, too? I fear it is because this version of the film does indeed reflect his vision. Eszterhas is sometimes a good writer, but this time he has had a complete lapse of judgment. Even when he kids himself, he's wrong. ''It's completely terrible!'' a character says of the film within the film. ''It's worse than `Showgirls'!'' Of course Eszterhas wrote ''Showgirls,'' which got some bad reviews, but it wasn't completely terrible.
I was looking forward to explaining that to him this week, but he canceled his publicity visit to Chicago, reportedly because his voice gave out. Judging by this film, it was the last thing to go.