For Your Consideration (12A)

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The Independent Culture

The pastiche of For Your Consideration looks galumphing in comparison. A satire on Hollywood and its rumour-mongering mischief, it concerns the making of an earnest family melodrama, Home for Purim, and the sudden possibility that its leading lady Marilyn Hack (Catherine O'Hara) might be in the running for an Oscar. The whisper acts like a contagion and soon her co-stars (Harry Shearer and Parker Posey) are being tipped as award contenders. The joke, you see, is that these people barely cut it as actors, let alone Oscar hopefuls, but it is a joke told so broadly that you wonder who could possibly find it funny.

A Hollywood insider comedy that falls flat would usually be neither here nor there. But this one is directed and co-written by Christopher Guest, whose improvisational genius has helped create the likes of Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show, and whose involvement in Rob Reiner's debut movie - otherwise known as This is Spinal Tap - was instrumental to its becoming, arguably, The Funniest Movie Ever Made. So what on Earth has happened?

For a start, the idea of a weepie as inept as Home for Purim is entirely misconceived: you might just find an actor desperate enough to star, but you would never persuade a studio to touch it. For another, the comedy lacks a vital framing device: in Spinal Tap, we saw the band through the prism of a "rockumentary" and were tickled by its fly-on-the-tour bus spontaneity. This time it's a straight narrative, which rebounds on the movie later when certain actors are asked to reflect on their disappointed hopes. A documentary-maker might legitimately pursue this line, but no Entertainment Tonight-style programme, however stupid, would turn up on an actor's doorstep to ask how it feels not to be nominated. The best jokes are the true jokes, and truth has not been best served here.

Guest has visited the downside of the movie business before in The Big Picture (1989), with Kevin Bacon playing the ingénu film-maker who gets taken for a ride. It was a hit-and-miss affair, though it did at least feature the great Martin Short as a not-so-super agent. This time, Eugene Levy plays the agent, whose remark to a client that he's "cold toast" fairly represents the feeble standard of wit on offer. Guest's stock company of players are present and correct, but few of them have managed anything to laugh about, either by improv or design. And it's baffling that the likes of Michael McKean (aka David St Hubbins from Spinal Tap) should be given so little chance to shine when Ricky Gervais is handed all the rope he needs as a studio executive: "miscast" is hardly the word. It's his second disastrous big-screen walk-on after Night at the Museum opposite Ben Stiller. I'm glad Gervais has made pals with his heroes, but I'm afraid that hobnobbing in Hollywood has done nothing for him or for Guest.