Flicks for Kicks: ‘What Just Happened’

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Sorry I have been inconsistent in updating this feature. For those of you who have forgotten, “Flicks for Kicks” is my weekly rant about recent movies I’ve seen. It gives me a chance to review new releases on DVD as well as older movies. This week’s flick for kicks is…(drum roll)…

“What Just Happened”

Starring: Robert DeNiro, Bruce Willis, John Turturro

Directed by Barry Levinson

Grade: B

Based on the memoir by Hollywood producer Art Linson, “What Just Happened” is a highly enjoyable comedy about the movie industry. It is the episodic tale of a Hollywood producer (Robert DeNiro) at the end of his rope, struggling to deal with the bureaucratic absurdities of the business. The satire in the film is not as biting or revealing as it aims to be. Most of it tells you what you already know or at least suspect about the industry (Frantic, diva directors can obtain heavy drugs at the snap of their fingers, producers connive and manipulate to get their “happy ending” to a movie, and movies are always thought of as simply products to be sold.) However, “What Just Happened” is an effective comedy nonetheless. It works, surprisingly, in deeply engaging the audience in absurd, trivial conflicts.

One of the biggest conflicts in the movie regards Bruce Willis (playing himself) refusing to shave his “Grizzly Adams’ beard” for a new film and DeNiro’s character having to confront him about it. What a silly, stupid conflict, you tell yourself. However, DeNiro’s character is so charming and sympathetic that we totally buy into it. One of the tensest scenes, in fact, involves the cast and crew anxiously waiting outside Willis’s trailer to see if he comes out clean shaven.

After a slew of mediocre movies, DeNiro and director Barry Levinson (“Diner,” “Rain Man”) are back to form. There is a sophistication and intensity here that was lacking in their recent films. Welcome back, gentlemen.

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