America's Sweethearts (12)

Review by Jack Foley

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Scene access; deleted scenes with director's introduction; filmographies; theatrical trailer; subtitles.

AMERICA'S sweethearts they may be, but is it worth spending time in the company of Julia Roberts, Catherine Zeta Jones, John Cusack and Billy Crystal for yet another romantic comedy?

The answer, for the most part, is yes; for while much of what goes on in Joe Roth's movie about movie-stars and their entourages is fairly routine, America's Sweethearts benefits from having a great ensemble cast, a polished script by co-star Crystal and is remarkably easy on the eye.

Cusack and Zeta Jones play the American sweethearts of the title; two of Hollywood's best-known stars (both on and off-screen) whose lives and careers have taken a tumble since their very public and very messy divorce. For Cusack's Eddie Thomas, the break-up reduced him to an emotional wreck confined to rehab, while Zeta Jones's self-obsessed Gwen Harrison is desperately in need of a hit.

But with a major studio in financial crisis and the prospect of their latest movie being an easy money-spinner, Stanley Tucci's unscrupulous executive enlists the help of Billy Crystal's veteran press agent (Lee Phillips) and Julia Roberts's willing assistant (Kiki Harrison, Gwen's sister) to manufacture a reconciliation designed to give the media something to write about at an impromptu press junket.

However, Kiki harbours a crush on Eddie and it isn't long before the shambolic actor is torn between the two siblings and their differing desires. So far, so familiar. Yet while the central strand of the movie has that `been there, seen it all before' feel to it, the quality of its performers elevates many of the proceedings.

Roberts, who could sleepwalk through most rom-coms if she so wishes, remains charming throughout and her interplay with the ever-reliable Cusack, a bundle of charisma, is very well played. Zeta Jones makes an effective bitch, while Crystal is as dry as ever (though slightly less irritating).

Support players such as Hank Azaria (as Gwen's new Spanish lover, complete with ridiculously OTT accent), Seth Green (as a dim-witted press assistant), Tucci (at his sneering best) and even Christopher Walken (as a reclusive director) all add to the charm.

Rather like one of Crystal's Oscar presentation evenings, this is a very slick, very in-jokey production guilty of Hollywood's worst excesses, but equally difficult to completely dislike.

Its script is as crisp and gag-laden as you would expect - in one particularly stand-out delivery, a dismayed Cusack, upon hearing that Zeta Jones has a larger room than him because of her entourage, retorts: ``I'm a paranoid schizophrenic; I bring my own entourage!'' - and several of its set pieces - Cusack's encounter with a cactus - are very funny. It may ultimately appeal to the girls more than the guys, but there is still plenty for both to enjoy.

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