What Just Happened
Directed by Barry Levinson

Written by Art Linson from his memoir

Starring Robert De Niro, Catherine Keener, Sean Penn, Bruce Willis


What Just Happened

Real life, even in Hollywood, just isn't as interesting as a created one - and so "What Just Happened," the supposed-to-be-comic story about a week in the life of a Hollywood producer, leaves us with no punch-line and barely even a setup for one.

Based on the producer Art Linson's memoir of life on the edge in Hollywood - he produced "Fight Club" and "Into the Wild," among others - the film has Robert De Niro as a producer with two troubled productions on his hands plus two ex-wives, one of whom he still loves and would like to get back with. So what's funny about that? Director Barry Levinson, who made the very prescient and extremely funny classic "Wag the Dog," is in charge here but everything in "What Just Happened" is much too close to reality to be funny.

The film begins with a test screening of De Niro's new film "Fiercely," which stars Sean Penn and ends with the bad guys shooting the hero's dog - something that is so offensive to the audience that they hate the film. Studio president Catherine Keener insists that they change the ending, but the film's director, an out-of-control Englishman, won't do it. De Niro goes from there to his new Bruce Willis action film, only to find that Bruce has grown a beard worthy of the Smith Brothers and is fat to boot.

There are lots of other complications, including the suicide of an agent - no loss there - except that he's been sleeping with De Niro's 17-year-old daughter. Is any of this funny? Not so far, and it doesn't get any better either. The real Hollywood types - Willis and Penn among others - and the created ones, played by Stanley Tucci, Robin Wright Penn, and John Turturro - just aren't sharply enough drawn to be worth all the time the film spends on them. Catherine Keener, in another wasted role as the studio president - and when is she going to get a film all to herself? - is brilliant; one can see just how power is granted to those at the top of the heap in Hollywood.

But "What Just Happened" is tedious, tasteless and worst of all simply not funny. If you ask me, I think it needed another rewrite, and then maybe it should have been put in turnaround.