Rating: 2 stars
What Just Happened? is the kind of film that presupposes we want to hang out with a stressed out Hollywood producer who’s having a few very bad days.
Films like this can work—when they’re hilariously funny or rife with fresh insights—but What Just Happened? is only mildly funny and, if you’ve ever seen The Player, State and Main, or watched a single episode of Entourage, its insights are few and far between.
Still, it’s nice to see Robert DeNiro playing a real character, not a parody of himself. He’s Ben, the Hollywood producer (he’s about to be featured in Vanity Fair’s 25 Most Powerful in Hollywood issue) who’s been feeling rather powerless lately.
For starters, he’s got two ex wives—he’s even in couple’s therapy with the second (Robin Wright Penn), although it’s not to get back together, it’s to make the breakup more palatable (now that’s a good joke).
Meanwhile, his Sean-Penn-headlined action thriller just tanked at a screening because the whiny, drug-addled, would-be auteur director (a cliché) kills the dog at the end (another cliché).
As if that’s not bad enough, he’s beginning production on a Bruce Willis film and Bruce (playing himself) shows up on the first day heavily bearded and pot-bellied because he feels it’s true to the character (this, apparently, is loosely based on Alec Baldwin’s similar behavior on the set of The Edge).
It’s fun to see Penn and Willis poke fun at themselves (“as long as it’s still got an edge,” Penn says, when told his film has been edited). And DeNiro is convincing as a nice guy in a not-so-nice industry who is trying desperately to stay above the fray.
But John Turturro is way over the top as an anxious agent; Stanley Tucci is wasted in a small role as a screenwriter who may or may not be sleeping with Ben’s ex; and the film, inevitably, becomes a bit tiresome. With all this great talent assembled (including director Barry Levinson, in fine form) I wish they’d come up with a more compelling reason why I’d want to spend time with Ben at all.