The following is my entry in An Alan Smithee Blogathon, being hosted at this blog from Aug. 30 through Sept. 1, 2019. Click on the above banner to read bloggers’ takes on a wide range of movies credited to this “prolific” director!
The background story of An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn is more interesting and amusing than anything in the movie. For decades, if a film director felt he had little or no control over how badly his movie came out, the Directors Guild of America could be talked into crediting the film’s director as “Alan Smithee” in order for the real director to save face.
Burn Hollywood Burn was directed by Arthur Hiller, who was so incensed by the final product that the movie ended up being credited to…guess who?
While Hiller has never been known as a top-notch comedy director, it’s easy to see that the blame for this exercise in cinematic torture must be laid at the hands of screenwriter Joe Eszterhas, who applies the same heavy hand to Hollywood satire that he did to feminism in Basic Instinct and Showgirls. His actors do everything they can to show how funny they think they are. (As a harried movie producer, Ryan O’Neal does so many camera looks, you’d think he was staging his own tribute to Oliver Hardy.) And every time a celebrity is brought on-screen, Eszterhas gives him or her a cutesy title, such as:
The movie’s premise promises more than it eventually delivers. A beleaguered movie director (Eric Idle), whose actual name is Alan Smithee, discovers that he’s the in-name-only director of a big-budget action film whose producers are running roughshod over him. Trouble is, he can’t get his name removed from the film because…well, think about it.
The story is told in quasi- (or maybe I should say queasy-) documentary style, but it never slows down long enough to be believable. The best fake-documentaries, such as This Is Spinal Tap, settle in for long, luxurious takes where we really get to know the characters, satirical though they may be. By contrast, Hiller has his characters spouting their weak jokes straight at the camera, with “Family Guy”-type cuts that end with weak-as-tea punchlines. (At one point, one of the producers declares that his movie is “worse than Showgirls!” — which was, of course, written by guess-who.)
There are plenty of stars here who are happy to poke fun at themselves, but none of them make much of an impact. (As a monotone cop, former movie executive Harvey Weinstein comes off even more terrible than the others, in light of the sexual allegations that killed his career.) The only actors who rate more than a mild chuckle are Coolio and Chuck D as “The Brothers Brothers” (think the Hughes Brothers), who not only direct street-smart action films but are also crackerjack negotiators at Hollywood board meetings.
And finally, a word of pity for Eric Idle, who plays the put-upon Alan Smithee. The saddest thing about seeing a favorite actor or comedian in a sellout role is knowing how funny he once was or can be. All of the Monty Python alumni have done their share of middling solo turns, but I find it maddening to see how many movie parts Idle seems to have done solely for the money. Maybe he should make a comedy about a frustrated comedian who really wants to make better movies, but his famous name always gets in the way.