Retro Film Review: An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn (1997)

in #filmlast month (edited)


Hollywood usually tries to portray each and every of its products as something very good. It rarely happens that Hollywood establishment does the opposite by advertising film's badness. Something like that happened with An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn, 1998 comedy directed by Arthur Hiller. When this title appeared in my country's video stores it was advertised as "the most expensive straight-to-video film ever made". Even before that, media frenzy surrounding this film was in some ways comparable to brouhaha created by Titanic. But in this case the publicity was resoundingly negative - critics crucified the film, director Hiller disowned it and its bad reputation was later confirmed by Razzie Awards.

This film is designed as mockumentary that depicts what happened to "Trio", immensely expensive action-themed Hollywood blockbuster starring Sylvester Stallone, Whoopie Goldberg and Jackie Chan. With the budget way over 200 million US$ mark, producer James Edmunds (played by Ryan O'Neal) and studio executive John Glover (played by Richard Jeni) don't want to take any chances with artistically inclined directors. Instead they give the task of directing to anonymous British editor Alan Smithee (played by Eric Idle) who is supposed to deliver routine job. Unfortunately, Smithee has other ideas - he is experienced enough to know that his directing debut is going to end disastrously unless he gains more creative control. Smithee doesn't even have an option of salvaging his reputation by disowning the film - Directors Guild of America rules mandate that every disowned film should be signed with pseudonym "Alan Smithee". Frustrated film-maker decides to take a drastic step – he steals film's negative and takes refuge among black independent filmmakers Dion (played by Coolio) and Leon Brothers (played by Chuck D).

Just like in many similar instances, An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn didn't exactly live to its hype or, to be more precise, infamy. Those critics who buried the film had some valid arguments, though. The directing leaves much to be desired, while the soundtrack is downright awful. The latter could be explained with film's budget problems that forced film's screenwriter and producer Joe Eszterhas to use materials from cheap, unknown and utterly untalented artists instead. But the worst thing about this film is the script. An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn is supposed to be comedy. Unfortunately, there is very little humour in this film, at least the humour that works. Most of the jokes are weak, lame, unfunny or terribly repetitive. Even the bloopers at the end credits disappoint.

On the other hand, this film's bad reputation and negative publicity had less to do with its quality and more to do with reputation of its screenwriter and producer. Joe Eszterhas used to be one of the best paid screenwriters in Hollywood but he was also among the least liked - many found misanthropy of his scripts offensive and Eszterhas earned reputation of homophobe, sexist and, last but not least, overpaid hack. Eszterhas' idea behind this film was to strike back at his detractors, at least those in Hollywood, by exposing the dark side of American film industry. The purpose behind his failed effort and not the effort itself was the reason why the critics' destruction of this film and its production woes were so enthusiastically cheered by Hollywood establishment. In trying to portray Hollywood as the place run by arrogant, incompetent and coked-up idiots Eszterhas makes many misses, but a rare hit makes An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn occasionally entertaining experience. Unfortunately, only those who are somewhat more familiar with the way Hollywood operates are going to find enjoyment in this film. Others would make themselves a favour if they skip it.

RATING: 3/10 (+)

(Note: The text in its original form was posted in Usenet newsgroup on July 26th 2004)

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