Judge Brendan Babish is still trying to recover from seeing William H. Macy naked in the shower.
Our review of The Deal, published July 31st, 2008, is also available.
Cut to the scam.
When I was in college I spent a summer working as an intern for a small movie production company in West Hollywood. I occasionally rapped with one of the executives about film, and one of the few things I remember is his disgust for movies about the movie business. It's probably due to these conversations that I've become particular about films about Hollywood. Of course, these movies are almost universally critical of the film business, but few have anything more insightful to say than "The studios don't respect art and everyone is a phony." There are a relative few that are insightful and entertaining (The Player, Swimming With Sharks), but the multitude aren't funny and have nothing interesting to say (The Pickle, An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn). Unfortunately, The Deal has much more in common with the latter than the former.
The Deal, written by prolific actor (and surprisingly prolific writer) William H. Macy (Magnolia) and Steven Schachter (who also directed the film), is a lighthearted comedy, but also a vicious piss-take of the way Hollywood does business. Charlie Berns (Macy) is a failed, suicidal movie producer who strikes upon a brilliant idea after being handed a verbose period-piece script written by his nephew, Lionel (Jason Ritter, W.). The idea is to pretend that mega-star Bobby Mason (LL Cool J, Deep Blue Sea) is attached to the project, get it greenlit for $100 million (and change), and then…profit, I guess. With Mason's rabbi (Elliott Gould, Friends) in on the deal (Mason is a recent Jewish convert), Cherlie's plan seems like a sure thing, except there's a spunky studio exec, Deidre Hearn (Meg Ryan, You've Got Mail), who suspects something is rotten in Hollywood. As she tries to queer the deal, Charlie not only manages to stymie her, but do some serious wooing in the process (and with a mug like Macy's, that's quite a feat).
Now, there's much to mock and critique about the film business. Most movies are bad; talent and creativity aren't always rewarded (and are sometimes punished). That said, too many attacks on Hollywood—such as The Deal—don't go beyond this superficial criticism. (In fact, those bad movies are often the most profitable: Paul Blart: Mall Cop, My Bloody Valentine, and Bride Wars will all be making dump trucks full of cash for their backers.) So much of The Deal's humor is mined from the idea that the movie business is being run by complete idiots, which is both shallow and—even worse—a tired idea. Does anyone not already buy into that stereotype? The Deal is like a children's movie where the kids know what's up, but all the adults are clueless. Charlie is the lead kid—kind of like an older, suicidal Zach Morris—who runs circles around his movie studio's various Mr. Beldings.
The success of Charlie's scheme makes the movie a burlesque, but one that lacks humor or much sense. Watching a cranky producer pull one over on a film studio is mildl amusing, though hardly gut-busting. While Macy is a fine actor, broad comedy is not one of his strong suits. He isn't helped by a largely laugh-free supporting cast, including LL Cool J, Gould, and Ryan, who seems to have spent much of her movie-making hiatus under the knife. I know I'm not the first to point out that it looks like she's had work done, but it distracts from the story, especially because the character seems to have been written for someone younger.
Then there are the several niggling plot points that probably shouldn't matter in a light comedy, but can't be overlooked when the rest of the film doesn't provide much entertainment. For one, if Charlie is such an unsuccessful producer, why is he so adept at getting a $100 million dollar non-film greenlit? Most people can't even get real films greenlit. If he's suicidal at the start of the film, how does he suddenly become cool and unflappable about 20 minutes in? There's also Charlie's romance with Deidre. What does she see in him? How can he be so enticing that she's willing to dump her fiancé for this sad sack?
All this said, The Deal is not a disaster. Still, as a comedy it's devoid of many laughs, as a satire it's too simplistic and clumsy, and as a movie it's just forgettable.
The Deal is a straight-to-DVD release, so it's not surprising that the disc doesn't come with many extras. There are a few interviews with the film's featured actors and a short making-of. The DVD does come with a digital copy of the movie, which is a nice little bonus for those who would like to put it on your iPod or laptop.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Peace Arch Entertainment
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