Burn Hollywood Burn
(An Alan Smithee Film)

directed by Alan Smithee (Arthur Hiller)
(Buena Vista, 1997)

Under the rules of Hollywood's director's guild, a director who's unhappy with the final cut of his film can have his name removed from the credits, provided he replaces it with the pseudonym Alan Smithee.

But what if the director's real name is Alan Smithee? Then what can he do?

That's the comic question that confronts fictional director Alan Smithee (Eric Idle) in the fictional film, Burn Hollywood Burn (An Alan Smithee Film). Sadly, it's the viewer who gets burned by this very unfunny film built on a hilarious premise.

The problems begin even before the credits end.

For some reason, whoever cut the film after real-life director Arthur Hiller (Man of La Mancha) pulled out the project decided to open with what may be the longest title sequence on record. After several minutes of watching names slowly appear and disappear over graffiti art which has nothing to do with the remainder of the film, you start to think that everyone who's anyone in Hollywood must be involved in this project. They're not.

Mistake number two begins as soon as the titles end: instead of telling the story in a linear, narrative fashion, Hiller -- who did have his name removed from the credits -- tells it interview-style, in flashback. That worked wonderfully in This is Spinal Tap, which had the rockumentary structure and a lot of metalhead stereotypes to lampoon. But in Burn Hollywood Burn, the technique impedes any real action and turns the film into a talking-heads gabfest: a kind of "he said, she said" that flits from character to character so fast it's hard to keep up with who's accusing whom of what.

The story is simple, even if following it is not.

Longtime editor Alan Smithee gets his dream assignment: a chance to direct a $200 million action flick starring Sylvester Stallone, Whoopi Goldberg and Jackie Chan. But studio head Jerry Glover (Richard Jeni) and producer James Edmonds (Ryan O'Neal) recut the footage in ways that make Smithee want to reconsider his membership in the human race.

Unable to convince them to uncut the film, he steals the sole negative and disappears with it days before its scheduled opening at Grauman's.

That's a million-dollar idea all by itself. But burdened with an overabundance of technique, a repetitious script and a series of running gags that run out of gas long before the film ends, Burn Hollywood Burn becomes exactly what it set out to satirize: a badly made movie.

That's unfortunate, because Burn does churn ups a few belly laughs along the way, most of them attributable to Coolio and Chuck D. as Dion and Leon Brothers, the Brothers Brothers, two renegade filmmakers -- makers of the cult classic You Ain't No Brother -- who help out Smithee when he's on the run.

The brothers even go so far as to meet with Glove and Edmonds, bringing together the two whitest and two blackest filmmakers in Hollywood. It's a funny moment, edgy with potential, as the Brothers Brothers tell Edmonds and Glover that they'd better give Smithee what he wants -- final cut -- or they're "going to make the Rodney King business look like Disney did it."

In a more pensive moment, Idle, a talented performer who's given almost no character to play here, speaks of the artist's responsibility to protect the world from bad films. Too bad neither he nor Alan Smithee could do anything to stop this one.

[ by Miles O'Dometer ]

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