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What Just Happened

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Barry Levinson directed this breezy satirical comedy about Hollywood, based on veteran movie producer Art Linson’s memoir What Just Happened: Bitter Tales From the Hollywood Front Line. In it, Robert De Niro stars as Ben, an aging producer struggling to hold onto his A-list ranking while dealing with multiple personal and professional headaches. Ben’s newest movie, a violent action picture starring Sean Penn, has evoked hostility and revulsion among test audiences because of a shocking scene involving the hero’s dog. The tough studio chief, Lou (Catherine Keener), insists that the offending frames be removed, and the temperamental, pill-popping director (Michael Wincott) rebels. With splendidly fast-paced editing by Hank Corwin, Levinson creates an entertaining landscape of phone calls, lunch meetings, tantrums, opportunistic sex, Ecstasy and ego-stroking. As Hollywood satires go, however, this one is pretty mild — none of the dark sardonicism of The Day of the Locust or Robert Altman’s The Player. And, this being Linson’s story, Ben, the character based on him, is rather vanilla: a basically nice guy to whom crazy things happen. The movie is nonetheless amusing and enjoyable, with a great celebrity cast, many playing themselves and clearly having a fine time. HHH 1/2

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