First Look Pictures // 2003 // 89 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // April 23rd, 2004
The camera doesn't lie...it's the people behind it.
A wry little satire on the film industry, Hollywood North waxes smart and smarmy, but does it avoid the pitfalls of been-there-seen-that?
Bobby (Matthew Modine, Full Metal Jacket) is an aspiring producer, looking to break into the ulcer-inducing world of moviemaking. His career seems to get off to a decent start as he secures the rights to "Lantern Moon," a beloved Canadian novel. But when investors begin to clamor for big-name stars, Bobby is forced to import Michael Baytes (Alan Bates, Gosford Park), a high-priced celebrity thespian who comes with a giant ego and tenuous mental stability.
But star pride is the least of Bobby's worries. As the filming progresses, the fit hits the shan and the rookie producer must contend with an onslaught of ridiculous circumstances. There's the co-star, intent on doing his own stunts, who ends up the victim of an unfortunate mishap involving a jump from a twenty foot ledge. Or the nympho actress (Jennifer Tilly, Bound) renowned for her on-set hijinks that, thanks to some conveniently placed cameras, usually lead to an in coitus direct feed (which provides ample amusement for the crew on coffee breaks). His budget is overblown by $300,000, his co-producer has fallen under the tutelage of the increasingly psychotic Michael Baytes, and the author of the now unrecognizable "Lantern Moon" (renamed "Flight to Bogotá") circles the location, only to be horrified at the hatchet job done to her novel.
And add to that, Bobby must contend with the budding filmmaker-in-her-own-right, Sandy Ryan (Deborah Unger, Thirteen), who is shooting a documentary on the making of "Flight to Bogotá" and secretly stealing Bobby's sets and film to shoot another film.
As most of these catastrophe build-up movies typically go, everything eventually culminates in a flash-bang doll up of disaster (and some pyrotechnics). Oh, and there's some kissing too.
This movie is not bad, and falls just short of being really good.
The story is slick and there are some really funny moments throughout. Unfortunately, the humor is rather sporadic -- great at some points, tedious in others. And while I'm grateful this cataclysm-one-up flick avoided the potholes of others (read: Meet the Parents) where things get so ridiculously out-of-control it just ain't realistic anymore, the film just didn't deliver enough consistent laughs to render it noteworthy.
It's kind of a shame, because, really, Hollywood North is smart. And well-acted, too. The surrounding characters are lot of fun, from Bates's off-the-hook rendition of an ego-driven maniac kissing his marbles goodbye, to Tilly's slut-tastic hussy, to the reserved, calculating Unger. Actually, it's Modine that slightly disappoints. He didn't quite deliver the slow burn as well as I predicted. It's not a wash, but with all the travesties facing his production, I thought he'd be a little more rattled than he was.
The movie, being primarily a satire, does sneak in some nice little rabbit-punches to the world of studio filmmaking, but I just felt they lacked bite. For example, Alan Thicke has small role as an investor who pressures for the big-screen name of Bates. And with Bates comes an eventual downward spiral, as the movie loses any semblance of familiarity with its "source" material. Bates manages to infect almost the entire cast and crew with his neuroses and megalomaniacal attitude. But we never see the investors again, the big shots pulling the strings. The fruit ripest in the film world to skewer gets let off the hook, and it's our hapless characters who feel most of the sting.
But it's funny to watch them suffer.
Hollywood North takes place in the 1980s (surprisingly, IMDb reveals that the screenplay was written in 1987!) and the film stock is made to look that way (it waxes documentary, actually). Though it is grainy, I think it can be excused because it was the intent of the filmmakers'. What can't be excused is the utterly $%*&-ed up screen format. The movie appears to play in a double widescreen mode, thus scrunching up the picture noticeably. Only after I adjusted my DVD screen options I was able to secure a regular widescreen. Very puzzling, and a pain the butt. The audio comes in a stereo mix, which sounds fairly hollow. Again, this may have been a tactic the filmmakers used to recreate an early '80s era documentary feel. Only trailers round out the disc.
Hit and miss, but really funny when it hits. Probably worth a peek.
A really close case but we're going to have to lock you up for a few days. Court adjourned.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: First Look Pictures
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 89 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Rated R