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Click above to purchase "America's Sweethearts" at amazon.com

 

America's Sweethearts

review by Zach B.

 

Rated PG-13

Running Time: 103 minutes

Starring Julia Roberts, Billy Crystal, Catherine Zeta-Jones, John Cusack, Hank Azaria, Stanley Tucci, Christopher Walken, Seth Green

Written by Billy Crystal & Peter Tolan

Directed by Joe Roth

 

Studio: Columbia/Tristar

Retail Price: $27.95

Features: Deleted Scenes with Optional Director's Introduction, Filmographies, Theatrical Trailers

Specs: 2.40:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, 1.33:1 Full Screen, English Dolby Digital 5.1, English Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround, English Closed Captions, English Subtitles, French Subtitles, Scene Selections (28 Scenes)

Released: November 13th, 2001

Eddie Thomas and Gwen Harrison (John Cusack and Catherine Zeta-Jones) were America's favorite on-screen and off-screen couple. Doing multiple movies together and living the high life, they did split up and sadly, things haven't been the same since. Gwen found a Spanish guy named Hector (Hank Azaria) to hook up with (not to mention her career bombing) while Eddie has been a total wreck. While they have been avoiding each other and the press has had field days with them, the final movie they made together during their marriage, "Time After Time", is set for release. However, there is a problem. The film's eccentric director (Christopher Walken) is holding the film hostage until the press junket, that being the place where reporters are flown in to interview the stars and get buttered up by the studio. This does not please the studio head (Stanley Tucci), so he hires recently fired publicist Lee (Billy Crystal) to distract the press about not having the press, so Lee puts together an incredible junket with the main attraction of the fixed reconciliation of Eddie and Gwen. However, as things get underway Eddie starts to fall for Gwen's assistant and sister, Kiki (Julia Roberts). Guess what happens?

I had high hopes for "America's Sweethearts", but in the end, I'm sorry to say it did disappoint me. While it does a lot of things right, it also has some key flaws. The multitalented Billy Crystal co-produced, co-wrote and co-stars in the film, and while I am a giant Crystal fan I must say his script, written with friend Peter Tolan, did disappoint me. Crystal usually writes with Lowel Ganz and Babloo Mandel, who have a nice niche as writers in the entertainment industry. Here, with Tolan, who co-wrote the overrated "Analyze This" and was responsible for co-writing such bombs as the "Bedazzled" remake and "What Planet Are You From?", they create a script that lacks crucial development. To make matters worse, the film isn't even that funny either where I expected a lot of satire and a lot of commentary on the entertainment industry. There is some of that which I liked, but more would have really satisfied me. The two try to create a screwball comedy that never really lives up to what it could have, and I expected a lot of funny stuff that would have suited Crystal and the other performers nicely. There is some slapstick and one-liners that I chuckled at, but screwball moments are pretty ridiculous and nothing new. Again, more slaps at the entertainment industry, stars in general (sorry, Zeta-Jones being pampered and snotty gets old too fast) and actual press junkets would have made this a real winner in the comedy department. Also, the two creating a whole romantic comedy in this film does not really work, sadly. The relationships in this film lack key development. While I guess Gwen and Eddie's is set up perfectly fine, the most important one (at least I think) is the one between Eddie and Kiki. Yes there are some mentions and a flashback or two with them, but things are never really built up between them and all of it happens way too fast. I feels like something is missing, and as an audience we're supposed to make assumptions and go along with it. Also, Kiki and Gwen's relationship is also set up nicely, but the change in it that appears later on in the film makes you wonder the simple question "Why now?". I won't spoil it here, but I felt the change also needed much more of a build-up. Not that it's so sudden and it is pretty predictable, but there could have been even more to their relationship and how Kiki begins to come to terms with herself. Finally, the ending is pretty funny and somewhat ironic that fits the film really well, though for some reason I expected something different. Not that I wasn't happy with this ending, I just thought there could have been more with the characters facing everything. More lines and even a little more sap and reactions would have been good in the long run. Overall, I was disappointed with the script considering Crystal was behind it, as I think it's a really fabulous premise.

Despite the disappointing script, there's a good deal of things to enjoy in "America's Sweethearts". The acting is outstanding. Catherine Zeta-Jones as the prissy and spoiled Gwen does a job well done, while John Cusack as Eddie plays off of her and others well. He has a good charm and sensibility for the character. Julia Roberts, taking more of a unique role is really likable, enjoyable and vulnerable as Kiki. As usual, her performance is natural, true and outstanding. And she was originally offered the role of Gwen. Seth Green in a bald look has a small but fun role which I liked, while Hank Azaria (who I think is a wonderful character actor and pulls off tremendous work on "The Simpsons") steals the show as the Spaniard Hector. His accent and body language is hilarious. Finally, Stanley Tucci as the studio head is perfect for the part (I would have liked to see more of him), and Crystal does his great, fun acting style to Lee who's also perfect for his role. Oh yeah... Christopher Walken. Creepy and eerie as always, he shows up for a few scenes and is downright enjoyable. So, a truly solid cast right here that no one should be disappointed with. On a side note, there's a cameo by Byron Allen. Who's Byron Allen? That's the point. I enjoy his syndicated talk show, and he has a few lines in this movie and even gets to plug his website. The sad thing is he'll reach more person in a single theater watching this movie then he ever has with his talk show.

Former studio head Joe Roth, who was a honcho at Disney for a few years and developed "Mrs. Doubtfire" and "Home Alone" for Fox has gone back to directing and developing films with this production company Revolution Studios. Roth has not directed since 1990's "Coupe de Ville", but I have to say he does a good job overall. He knows the material and presents it nicely with a good pace. While the film is a bit of a let down, I found it to go by really fast and I did get wrapped up in it. Roth was a fine choice to direct this movie, it feels like another romantic comedy but with its own touches. So, it's standard but has some nice elements. Again, it's fine for the film. I felt he used too many songs through the film for transitions and scenes, which did get annoying. Otherwise, a pretty solid directing job but I wished he could have improved the scenes with the relationships building up. On a different matter, I did notice some shots in the TV spots and previews that were changed or didn't make it into the final cut... I hate when that happens.

A big deal about this movie is that Julia Roberts wears a fat suit. It's really no big deal. It's only for two or three flashback scenes that don't last that long. She doesn't look fat either, she just looks a little chunky and that's about it. Why this was even written in was beyond me. To show an ugly duckling that didn't look that bad really in the first place is now so beautiful? Well, fine but it lacks establishment and no one hated that Kiki was fat in the first place. On a different note, the light musical score from James Newton Howard (great composer) sounds fantastic and fits in within the style of the film.

"America's Sweethearts" really disappointed me, being the Billy Crystal fan I was and how much there could have been to this movie. While it does pack a few laughs and some fantastic comedic acting, the script's few flaws become major ones and I expected a lot more as far as humor goes. More jabs at the industry and relationship developments would have made this a nearly flawless romantic comedy, but alas, it is not. Still, it is a pretty entertaining movie that moves fast, and you do become wrapped up in it. You'll really be surprised how fast it goes. While it's not a terrible movie by any means, "America's Sweethearts" could have been so much more. Very sweet? No. Sort of sweet? Yes. Decent, at best.

 

Columbia/Tri-Star is pleasing the mainstream here, as the DVD includes 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen and 1.33:1 full frame transfers of the movie. Color saturation here is very good, as fleshtones are right on target and look fairly accurate most of the time. Hues are also pretty good. However, things aren't perfect all of the time as far as colors. Black levels are pretty good, but I found that exterior shots with lots of color looked high in contrast and a bit unnatural, with some oversaturation. Some interior scenes struggle too. I noticed a lot of shimmering, noise and edge enhancement throughout too. The transfer, on the plus side, is pretty spotless. There are some blemishes here and there, but nothing major. Grain is also there. Overall, these are fine transfers, so take your pick. Though I'd go with the widescreen, as always. You do lose quite a bit with the full screen transfer.

 

There's a 5.1 Dolby Digital English mix, but it doesn't really sound like one. Fidelity is surprisingly low on the track and there aren't a lot of surrounds. During the motorcycle crash scene, I expected to feel like the glass shattering on me, but it felt like something rather small and straight-forward. Sound is clear, but sometimes there is a bit of distortion which can be rather annoying. There really isn't much to the 5.1 track at all. James Newton Howard's fine, light score sounds decent. There's also not much bass extension. I felt the Dolby Surround tracks, in English and French, sounded a bit worse. English closed captions and English subtitles as well as French subtitles are also included.

Not much. We have Theatrical Trailers for "America's Sweethearts" (in anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital 5.1), "My Best Friend's Wedding" (in anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Surround) and finally, "The Mask Of Zorro" (also in anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital 5.1). Inside the keep case there are some decent production notes, while brief Filmographies round up the standard stuff.

I suppose the big draw of all this are the five Deleted Scenes with Optional Director Introductions. If you turn on "Director's Commentary," (that's a mistake on the menus there, there's no alternate audio track, just video intros) director Joe Roth gives really nice videotaped intros for the scenes in full frame. Then the scene plays in non-anamorphic widescreen. However, if you choose not to watch the introductions, the scenes are presented in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen. I guess there was a forgotten switch over of sorts... in any case, the scenes are complete and have Dolby Surround tracks in English, but I agree with Roth's reasoning. Still, they can be a bit entertaining but don't go so well with the film. They are shot. I was also disappointed to see that two scenes cut from the film, that I saw in commercials (Eddie and Kiki laughing in a car together and a shot of Gwen and Kiki at a premiere) aren't in here. Interesting...

"America's Sweethearts" is one of the summer of 2001's bigger success stories, but the grand potential it had is sadly lost throughout. This really could have been a fine romantic comedy and a great showbiz satire, but in the end, it feels so manufactured and predictable. Despite the great talent behind it, nothing really sets it apart. It's nothing great, but it's tolerable. The DVD has a good transfer, but the extras and sound mix are weak. The price is a bit steep too. Unless you loved it to death, "America's Sweethearts" is only worth a rental.

(3/5 - NOT included in final score)

(4/5)

(2.5/5)

(1/5)

(2.5/5, NOT an average)

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