Burn Hollywood Burn

A Wet Match

Very likely Allan Smithee’s worst film ever. Erratic scripter Joe Esterhaus decided to somehow get some bile out of his system by churning out a script about a first-time director (Eric Idle) who, outraged when his $200 million action epic “Trio” is recut by the studio, steals the original negative and holds it for ransom. The reason he doesn’t just elect to take his name off the film: the Directors Guild (or whoever’s in charge of these things) will automatically assign their usual “Allan Smithee” credit to the film, which happens to be the director’s real name. The reason the studio doesn’t assemble a new negative from their available elements (the work print, alternate takes, etc.)? Don’t ask me. The same goes for the fact that Smithee is somehow entrusted with the negative in the first place. And that it seems highly out of character for such a sensitive soul to be offered (and accept) such a high-profile assignment.

Although it’s also strange that Arthur Hiller – a director who’s closest brush with comedy was Hotel – should be hired to direct Esterhaus’ script. Subsequently, Hiller decided to take his name off the film (replaced, of course, by ‘Smithee’), when Esterhaus recut it. I suspect Esterhaus directed most of it himself and cooked up the row with Hiller as some kind of ‘ironic’ publicity stunt. Which is about as lame as the resulting flick.

The story unfolds in the mockumentary style pioneered by This Is Spinal Tap, mostly told in retrospect by the principals involved. This isn’t a bad idea. In fact, there’s a lot of good ideas in the script. But Esterhaus doesn’t know what to do with them – unrelenting interview footage with producer Ryan O’Neal and studio head Richard Jeni bogs everything down. When O’Neal, Idle or Jeni isn’t on screen, another talking head (many of them real Hollywood faces that only insiders recognize) is taking up space. Would it be so bad to mix it up with some funny behind-the-scenes footage shot during the making of the false feature? If nothing else, it would have given more screen time to the charismatic stars of “Trio”: Sylvester Stallone, Whoopi Goldberg, and Jackie Chan (side note: the end credits feature outtakes, perhaps as a tribute to Jackie). As it is, all that’s seen of “Trio” – the supposed center of interest – is one scene and some explosions cribbed from Die Hard 3. I would’ve liked to see why the recut film upset Smithee so. Maybe I would’ve cared to find out what he does with the negative.

In the film, everyone eventually admits that “Trio” was a piece of shit film – but I’d still rather see it than Burn Hollywood Burn.

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