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@AL-ReviewBody:What Just Happened Director: Barry Levinson Starring: Robert De Niro, Robin Wright Penn, Bruce Willis

@AL-ReviewBody:What Just Happened is a Hollywood satire that refuses to bear its teeth. It gives its subject a firm gumming rather than the bite it so truly deserves. Adapted by the veteran producer Art Linson (The Untouchables) from his infamous tell-all Hollywood memoir, and directed by Wag the Dog's Barry Levinson, it stars Robert DeNiro as Ben, a beleaguered Tinseltown producer painfully trapped between his commitments to his wildly temperamental actors, directors and fearsome studio paymasters, and his neglected children and cherished ex-wife, played by Robin Wright Penn. Over the course of a sublimely torturous fortnight, Ben is put through the Hollywood grinder (the narrative is framed by a Vanity Fair "power issue" photo shoot). With sly hints of The Player and even odd echoes of Tropic Thunder, Ben forces a happy ending from the hot-heated English auteur Jeremy (Michael Wincott), who is working on a Cannes-ready cut of his new Sean Penn thriller. He makes Bruce Willis (playing a megalomaniacal version of himself) shave an unattractive beard before shooting. And he nervously liaises with a terrifying studio head, played by Catherine Keener, while still pining for Wright Penn's delicate Kelly. All this is executed with a certain familiar efficiency. And DeNiro is indeed fine at playing "harried" on screen. But the movie has sweetened the bile in Linson's book (in which Alec Baldwin wore the beard because he felt fat), and ultimately feels strangely self-congratulatory. Which, clearly, is not the point.

* Kevin Maher

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