The Big Picture

You keep rooting for this Hollywood sendup to make it, even as the bad ideas start gaining on the good. What a concept: Create a comedy about a student filmmaker (Kevin Bacon) who wins a chance to develop a movie at a major studio and along the way compromises his talent, betrays his best friend, takes up with a conniving starlet, loses his sweetie and ends up in squalor until he catches on that success comes only when you stay true to yourself.

Director Christopher Guest (an actor making his debut on the other side of the camera) and co-writers Michael McKean and Michael Varhol can't make the last part wash. Their sappy optimism plays like the kind of box-office compromise the film correctly excoriates. Guest and McKean, who coscripted and costarred in Rob Reiner's hilarious rock satire, This Is Spinal Tap, are much better with the nasty stuff. Venom becomes them.

The same goes for the actors. It's the creeps who get to party. J.T. Walsh is a howl as the studio chief with a knack for turning the most intellectual script into a beach-party flick. And Martin Short's frazzled fruitcake of an agent is one for the comedy time capsule. Watching Short work a restaurant ("I'll have a thimble of the almond torte"), a car phone ("I'm killing myself") or a client powwow ("Take the TV deal") is to witness the gaucheries and hypocrisies of Hollywood laid bare. When Short is onscreen, a movie that provides only fitful laughter bubbles over into bliss.

From The Archives Issue 167: August 15, 1974