Barry Levinson's finest films – Diner and Tin Men – preyed on the anxieties of small-time operators in his native Baltimore.
This droll satire dwells on the insecurities, cruelties and vanities of "big-time" LA movie folk. Robert De Niro's producer, Ben, is one of the top movers and shakers in Hollywood, according to Variety; however his life is slowly unravelling. He's involved in a turkey, a bleak thriller called Fiercely, with Sean Penn, which disgusts test audiences – in the final reel South London gangsters shoot a dog. "The dog has to die," moans Michael Wincott's precious director. A weary Ben has to persuade him otherwise. He is also charged with cajoling Bruce Willis (playing himself) into shaving off his wild, "Grizzly Adams" beard. Willis, amusingly, moans about losing his "artistic integrity".
To increase his blood pressure further Ben has two former wives, one (Robin Wright Penn) he still has "feelings" for. Plus, he discovers his 17-year-old daughter (Kristen Stewart) has been bonking a sleazy agent, who has just blown his brains out.
Levinson's languorous, slightly flimsy hatchet job of Hollywood doesn't have the white-shark teeth of Altman's exquisite The Player, but it has a few tangy lines, a rare decent role for De Niro and John Turturro is watchable as Willis's neurotic agent – "I'm not scared of him, I'm scared of all of them." Actors, that is.