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With Jim Sabatini

What Just Happened

What Just Happened
Robert DeNiro, Robin Wright Penn, Kristen Stewart, Michael Wincott, Catherine Keener, Stanley Tucci and John Turturro

Rated: R language, some violent images, sexual content and some drug material
Reviewed by: Jim  
Release date: October 31, 2008 Released by: Magnolia Films

This fairly entertaining insider picture has a snaky charm to it, thanks in large part to Robert DeNiro.

Maybe he's doing a variation on his Analyze This mobster as director Barry Levinson cuts deeply into show business working deftly from scenarist Art Linson's memoirs. Even though it isn't nearly as incisive or witty as their earlier work on the political satire Wag the Dog.

DeNiro's Ben is a hot-shot Hollywood producer having personal troubles; his ex-wife (Robin Wright Penn) isn't easy to lure back into his life and his teen daughter (Kristen Stewart) from an earlier marriage has plenty of baggage in her life.

His professional life sees a highfalutin director (Michael Wincott) uncompromising regarding making necessary cuts to a new Sean Penn movie to acquiesce to studio head (Catherine Keener). Another project has an unstable Bruce Willis unwilling to change his appearance and things are coming to a head for Ben as the Cannes Film Festival nears.

The script from Linson has bite to it given his closeness to Ben's increasingly neurotic condition. It may not go for the broad satire as depicted in the recent late summer hit Tropic Thunder with more wildly comedic turns, but it has a passion for the ruthless and the dramatic narcissism out there. Especially with all the stars, their agents, and directors trying to make their mark.

It's DeNiro's picture all the way catching into a figure not highly regarded that much for his skills as the diaphanous burden seems to require much compromise. There's depth to this sometimes funny tale of Hollywood angst as the way Ben reacts to those around him.

Levinson keeps the tone in agreement with the issue-oriented depth and edge brought to the proceedings by those in Ben's orbit. Penn and Willis nicely overstate their own personas, while Wright Penn (divorced now from Sean offscreen) and Keener provide able backup. With Stanley Tucci as Ben's flirtatious writing chum and an amusing John Turturro as a somewhat aloof agent, the filmmakers and DeNiro know how show business's spin doctors have much influence in the subtly caustic What Just Happened.

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What Just Happened  B      B      B+   C-         B- 

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