. "America's Sweethearts"

A well-written, well-acted sendup of Hollywood marriages and dealmaking amid the demands of the all-important publicity machine. Co-writer/actor Billy Crystal and director Joe Roth (former studio head of 20th Century Fox and Disney) put together a well structured comedy and fine comedic cast in this wry observation about the relationship between what you say and what you feel in the survival competition that is the world of movie-making.

Gwen Harrison and Eddie Thomas (Catherine Zeta-Jones and John Cusack) are that hugely successful Hollywood couple that America adores and supports with boxoffice revenues. Trouble is, since Eddie found out that she was "seeing" Hector (Hank Azaria), a hot, fiery Spanish actor, and after he tries to wipe them out by driving his motorcycle into them while they're enjoying a meal together, the couple has been separated.

Very separated. Eddie, in fact, has been in a new-age sanitarium run by a Guru (Alan Arkin) and has learned to chant about how grateful he is for the sun, the flowers, the air he breathes. Gwen has been carrying on with her life with her new boyfriend and doted on by her sister Kiki (Julia Roberts) whom she treats as a virtual slave. Kiki, who was once an overweight blob of a girl has slimmed down to match the attractions of her sister.

Well... the movie star couple made a film which is about to be released and due for exposure to the press. The only problem is that it was made by the semi-mad auteur, Hal Weidmann (Christopher Walken) who won't deliver his film to the studio until the press junket where it'll be seen for the first time.

Studio boss Dave Kingman is livid with rage over this, especially as he can't depend on Eddie and Gwen to support the film with their presences since they aren't ever getting together again. There's nothing to do but to rehire Lee Phillips (Billy Crystal), his ace publicist, whom he just fired in order to replace him with a young man. He realizes that no one on the planet can massage egos well enough to get the couple back long enough for the junket but this pro. Point: when you need the bast, experience counts.

Lee puts all his skills to work, playing intermediary between the warring parties, to pull it off and, in the accomplishment, allows Eddie to get a new look at his ex-wife's sister Kiki, who he now sees in an entirely new light.

As comedies go, this one is first rate. As you can glean from the above, there's something happening and someone's toes being stepped on every inch of the satiric way. The humor is non-stop, the ironies at Hollywood's expense the butt of most of it, and it works just fine in a neat 100 minutes.

Zeta-Jones is a classic beauty off the canvas of an 18th century oil painting but doesn't allow that to get in the way of good comedy timing and sensibilities. Likewise one of America's sweethearts in real life, Julia Roberts, does equally well in the part of a very underappreciated enabler for her dominating sister. The two combine nicely in sister roles.

Cusack is right on target as the aggrieved husband with his intentions completely out of focus; Hank Azaria over-effects a Spanish accent with a lisp and an ego to charm a snake; Tucci is his impeccable overwrought self; Walken's gifts of peculiarity are put to excellent (and thankfully limited ) use and Crystal is his usual master of the comedic moment. Just about all his one-liners pay off. Every part is cast well. Points about values and mores of Hollywood and journalists are made well and used as the basis for considerable hilarity. Bravos to all.

Estimated cost: $48,000,000. Projected U.S. boxoffice: $92,000,000.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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