A funny thing happened on the way to making “America’s Sweethearts” a box-office smash — it seems the filmmakers forgot just what the purpose of the film was and who its stars really were.
So instead of the movie being a fluffy little romantic comedy starring the likes of Julia Roberts, John Cusack and Catherine Zeta-Jones — all of whom could have made such a thing work — it wound up becoming a mean-spirited ego trip for its co-star and co-screenwriter, Billy Crystal.
Not only does “Hollywood insider” humor dominate the film, but that part just isn’t funny. In fact, much of the supposed “humor” here is either surprisingly crude or “too inside,” and there are several moments that could be perceived as racially insensitive.
Again, that might be somewhat forgivable if “America’s Sweethearts” ever invested any serious time on the romantic subplot, but instead, it skimps on that and becomes a case study in missed opportunities.
As you may have guessed from the trailers, the film’s title refers to Eddie Thomas and Gwen Harrison (Cusack and Zeta-Jones), married Hollywood megastars who recently split up because she had an affair with one of her co-stars (Hank Azaria). So now the two can’t stand each other, let alone be in the same room.
So it’s up to Lee Phillips (Crystal), a former studio publicist trying to get his job back, to keep them together while promoting their last movie together. Lee’s studio boss (Stanley Tucci) has promised to reinstate him if he can get the squabbling, soon-to-be-exes to co-exist at a press junket for the flick “Time Over Time.”
But first, Lee has to get Eddie back from a retreat, where he’s been since the split with Gwen. Then he has to convince her that Eddie is no longer a threat to her safety.
To everyone’s surprise, all seems to go well at first. But then Eddie begins to act on his attraction to Kiki (Roberts), Gwen’s sister and personal assistant, who has dropped 60 lbs. since he last saw her and who has turned out to be quite a knockout.
It’s not completely fair to blame Crystal entirely for this mess, since it’s rather ineptly directed by former Disney studio chief Joe Roth. As a result, you can sense the performers are straining to make the material funnier, though Zeta-Jones sometimes tries too hard.
Of the bunch, the only one who comes close to being likable is Roberts’ Kiki, though the message that she had to lose weight to become desirable isn’t the best for already impressionable youngsters in the audience.
“America’s Sweethearts” is rated PG-13 for occasional use of profanity (including one utterance of the so-called “R-rated” curse word), crude sexual humor (both sight gags and references) and slapstick violence (a brief scuffle, among other things). Running time: 101 minutes.