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With: Ryan O'Neal, Eric Idle, Whoopi Goldberg, Sylvester Stallone, Richard Jeni, Coolio, Chuck D., Leslie Stefanson, Sandra Bernhard, Cherie Lunghi, Harvey Weinstein, Gavin Polone, MC Lyte, Marcello Thedford, Nicole Nagel, Stephen Tobolowsky, Erik King, Naomi Campbell, Dina Spybey, Jackie Chan, Robert Evans, Shane Black, Joe Eszterhas, Larry King, Billy Bob Thornton, Billy Barty
Written by: Joe Eszterhas
Directed by: Alan Smithee (a.k.a. Arthur Hiller)
MPAA Rating: R for strong language and some sexual humor
Running Time: 86
Date: 10/01/1997

An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn (1998)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Good Bad Movies

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I'm not sure if everyone knows who Alan Smithee is. If you look him up in a reference book, he has the worst credit list of any filmmaker; nothing but garbage. But he doesn't exist. He's a pseudonym invented by the Director's Guild for directors who want their names taken off their films. Generally this request is only granted if the film in question has been taken away and re-cut against the director's wishes. The new film An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn asks the question, what if the director's name really is Alan Smithee?

An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn is shot in fake-documentary style, telling the story of what happens when a guy named Alan Smithee (Eric Idle) shoots a film that he doesn't like and is re-cut by the studio. Studio heads, writers, actors, and friends and family are interviewed, and they all talk to the camera. An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn is actually directed by Alan Smithee, who this time is really Arthur Hiller, the president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and also the president of the DGA. Hiller actually had to use the Smithee pseudonym after he disagreed with writer Joe Eszterhas' version of the final cut, and lost.

The movie had already developed a horrible reputation before I got to see it in a screening here in San Francisco. It was written by Joe Eszterhas, perhaps the worst (and most highly paid) screenwriter in history, whose credits include the abysmal Sliver (1993), Jade (1995), and Showgirls (1995). But, as a comedy, An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn is completely irreverent. It's unafraid of the consequences of its existence, and it's brutally nasty , offensive, and abrasive. In other words, the kind of comedy they used to make in the 70's before things became politically correct.

An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn follows the production of an expensive action movie (with the same budget as Titanic) called Trio, starring Whoopi Goldberg, Jackie Chan and Sylvester Stallone (who all appear as themselves). Alan Smithee is an editor who gets the job directing Trio as his first film. When the film is finished, he is astounded at how awful it is, so he steals the negative. He links up with the underground of L.A., the black militant filmmakers, represented here by the Brothers Brothers, Leon and Dion Brothers (played very well by Chuck D and Coolio). The Brothers Brothers try to negotiate with the producer (Ryan O'Neal) and studio head (Richard Jeni), who get the Brothers mixed up with Spike Lee ("I loved Malcolm X!"). In the end, Smithee burns the film, and then his life story is optioned for $5 million.

Eszterhas isn't just interested in skewering the producers. He skewers everyone, even himself. At one point, Smithee proclaims solemnly that Trio is "worse than Showgirls." In another sequence, the writers of Trio, which include Shane Black, Eszterhas himself, Billy Bob Thornton and a critic named Shiela Maslin (a combination of Janet Maslin and Shiela Benson) are interviewed. Maslin addresses the camera, "I got the script, and I got to take out every word Eszterhas had put in -- a critic's dream."

The movie moves fast and is very short, so the laughs come from individual moments, not from any kind of character development. (The Player this ain't.) There's no real poetry or style. The normally funny Eric Idle doesn't seem to get a single laugh -- he just frets. I can also see where Hollywood people would hate this movie, and people who don't read Variety every day wouldn't get it, leaving only a few hundred movie buffs living in San Francisco for its core audience. If you fit that bill, you'll enjoy An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn.

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