Two Comedies from Columbia Pictures
America's Sweethearts (May 5/08)
Though infused with a slick, admittedly fast-paced sensibility, America's Sweethearts nevertheless comes off as an egregiously bland piece of work that ultimately makes certain sitcoms look deep by comparison. Screenwriters Billy Crystal and Peter Tolan's tendency to emphasize punchlines over characters results in a frenetic yet entirely hollow atmosphere, although - to be fair - some of the actors sporadically do manage to rise above the undeniably lackluster material. John Cusack and Catherine Zeta-Jones star as Eddie and Gwen, a legendary Hollywood couple whose break-up sent Eddie to a mental hospital and Gwen into the arms of an arrogant Spaniard (Hank Azaria's Hector). It's only with the impending release of their final film that Eddie and Gwen are reluctantly forced to team up one more time, as legendary publicist Lee Phillips (Crystal) whips together a lavish press junket in the middle of the desert. There's little doubt that America's Sweetheart's pervadingly innocuous modus operandi slowly-but-surely ensures that a distinctly stagnant vibe creeps into the proceedings, with the film's downright disastrous finale - in which Eddie and Gwen's film is revealed to be an avant-garde meta mess - stretches the limits of credibility far, far beyond the breaking point. And while Zeta-Jones is as awful here as one might've anticipated, the affable work of the film's other actors - including co-star Julia Roberts - proves instrumental in cementing America's Sweetheart's place as a periodically watchable, entirely inoffensive, and thoroughly middle-of-the-road effort.
Troop Beverly Hills
While it's hard to deny that Troop Beverly Hills is often as silly and broadly-played as one might've anticipated (the title alone seems to promise an over-the-top comedic endeavor), there's little doubt that the film eventually does wear out its welcome due primarily to its wildly uneven structure and Jeff Kanew's ostentatiously '80s directorial choices. Shelley Long stars as Phyliss Nefler, a spoiled Beverly Hills housewife who, in an effort to take her mind of her impending divorce from successful muffler magnate Freddy Nefler (Craig T. Nelson), agrees to lead her daughter's Wilderness Girl troop. Saddled with a ragtag team of girls that includes Carla Gugino's Chica Barnfell and Kellie Martin's Emily Coleman, Phyliss soon finds herself forced to contend with a villainous district leader (Betty Thomas' Velda Plendor) who'll stop at nothing to ensure the dismantling of Troop Beverly Hills. Screenwriters Pamela Norris and Margaret Oberman expectedly play up the more overtly zany elements within the storyline, as there's a pronounced emphasis on the stereotypically broad personality traits of each of the girls (ie one is obsessed with money, another is in therapy, etc). Despite the brisk pace and rapid-fire gags, however, there quickly reaches a point at which Troop Beverly Hills starts to run out of steam - with Phyliss' eye-rollingly predictable arc certainly (and inevitably) proving detrimental to one's overall appreciation of the film. Still, the inclusion of a few genuinely sweet moments and Long's go-for-broke performance (as well as the novelty of spotting such future stars as Jenny Lewis and Tori Spelling within the supporting cast) ensure that the whole thing ultimately comes off as a mindlessly entertaining piece of work.