Like Dustin Hoffman's Hollywood movie producer called in to stage a fake war for a government public relations campaign in Wag the Dog, Joe Pesci's struggling actor who pretends to be a vigilante just wants the credit for his hard work.
The image of the self-made men who get by on their ingenuity is a recurring one in the career of Barry Levinson and the lengths that his characters will go to to achieve fame is an endless theme whether it's through their daring wit in Good Morning Vietnam, through criminal activity in Bugsy or through manipulation in Rain Man.
Yet in the end, reality always catches up to the men regardless of if it arrives in the form of a bullet (whether it's a live round or a blank), legal comeuppance, or a moral wake-up call wherein our lead grows a conscience and unfortunately, this device is precisely what brings down Levinson's Jimmy Hollywood.
Falling outside the realm of comedy as well as drama, by suddenly shifting the movie into gear as a predictably formulaic crime piece, Levinson undoes everything he'd attempted to do previously in the work. While standoffs are not uncommon territory in a Levinson movie whether it's literally in Hollywood or Bandits, or just simply in a legal, moral or emotional sense in other pictures, it isn't well-earned in this rather melancholic work.
The film focuses on an aspiring actor who by his own admission feels he missed out on the Hollywood he would've been right at home in back in the era of Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson. And sure enough it begins with a beautiful introduction to the classic film era dreaming mindset of our New Jersey transplant Jimmy Alto (Pesci) who journeys down the Hollywood Walk of Fame recalling every single one of the stars' names before getting stumped at Richard Widmark. However, Levinson is always perfectly clear to reveal that despite Alto's tendency to view his surroundings with rose colored glasses at least wistfully, that sadly that period of Hollywood has all but vanished thanks to drugs, crime, and decay.
In fact, Levinson's depiction of the film's setting is as lurid, unforgivingly bright during the daylight yet drearily doomed at night as the opening sequence of Garry Marshall's Pretty Woman but instead of turning his film into a box office friendly Cinderella story, we soon realize that Jimmy Alto is just decades too late for the ball.
Living off the income of his fellow dreamer yet much more grounded beautician girlfriend Lorraine (Victoria Abril) who emigrated from Spain with the same aspirations to work behind the scenes in the industry she's always fantasized about, Alto spends most of his time bouncing theories in the form of endless monologues off of the ever-willing, unfailingly loyal William (Christian Slater).
Prone to “blanking” as described by Alto, William – who is never given a last name – seems to be suffering from some sort of head injury or mental impairment, at times unaware that he's repeating himself due to occasional short term memory loss which makes him in all actuality the ideal sidekick to Alto since Pesci lives to talk himself up and needs somebody whose head is a little bit in the clouds as well.
Obsessed with Gone With the Wind, which he accidentally attributes to Steven instead of David O'Selznick, it's William who accidentally gives birth to the fake vigilante movement that Pesci creates by erroneously signing a note with O'Selznick's incorrect initials of “S.O.S.”
Suddenly changing it to “Save Our Streets,” Pesci's fictitious role of “Jericho,” the underground leader on the hunt for criminals the police can't catch takes off in the media as the role of the lifetime that the out-of-work actor desperately clings to himself, assuming this will be his way to prove his talent to the suits.
Inspired by the escalating crime in the neighborhood that found his girlfriend held up at gunpoint and his car radio stolen the one time he forgets to take it out of his vehicle on one of his journeys to various diners with William, the two fall into the gig by videotaping criminals at work in their neighborhood, even going so far as to keep one in their bathtub overnight.
Constantly working on his character and sending videotapes of Jericho's statements to the media to find himself – although shot in the dark to conceal his identity – becoming a new celebrity, Alto is in for a rude wake-up call when the real police speak out against vigilantism. To his surprise, the cops seem more determined than ever to put a stop to the Hollywood area underground group they estimate is run by fifty or so members instead of two inept movie lovers.
It's far too hard edged to be taken lightly and you can foreshadow the crash to come about midway through the picture. Thus although Levinson's premise for Jimmy Hollywood is solid and the two lead actors play well off each other as is typical for the director's oddball duos a la Rainman and Wag the Dog, we're not exactly sure just what he wants to say in a movie of such extremes and one wherein aside from William and the woefully underwritten Lorraine, you're not sure you want to root for Alto in the first place.
Given an unimpressive Blu-ray transfer, images appears a bit overly grainy and weak in the color sharpness in the Lionsgate release of an originally Paramount picture, which is unsurprisingly provided with zero extra features. And while fans of the actors, Levinson and possibly aspiring screenwriters may want to give it a look as practice to see what they would've done with the same basis, ultimately it's a reminder that we had to wait until 2008 for the filmmaker to make his best work purely about the industry with the little seen What Just Happened.
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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.
Labels: Blu-ray Review