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What Just Happened?

Bruce Willis With a Beard

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

The name lends itself to many interpretations, mostly negative. But I’ll refrain from the silly puns because the title actually does fit the film. It follows successful film producer Ben (Robert De Niro) who, by the end, is asking himself that exact question – What Just Happened? OK, so maybe I will have to invoke the lame pun because that’s also the question I was asking myself -- and I wasn’t sympathizing with De Niro’s character.

The film is based off of Art Linson’s memoir who is a successful, Hollywood producer. Linson also wrote the screenplay. It’s obviously set up to give the viewer an “inside” look of Hollywood, but it offers nothing new. It’s bland and, worst of all, utterly cliché.

Director Barry Levinson has delved into the Hollywood biz before with Wag the Dog. That was based off of a hypothetical situation, yet was supposed to still give a look at how Hollywood works. This time, however, it’s supposed to be a realistic interpretation with De Niro obviously portraying Linson. So it’s shocking that it just persists with the stereotypes of Hollywood that everyone knows and expects.

De Niro is, of course, the quintessential producer. He’s caught in a struggle between work troubles and a fragmented personal life. Specifically he is producing a picture of British filmmaker Jeremy Brunell (Michael Wincott) who is hoping to attend Cannes, but his new film has some pretty graphic scenes involving a dog, and studio head Lou (Catherine Keener) is none too happy. Jeremy throws fits as he watches his creative control slip and Ben has to act as the moderator.

Then there’s another picture Ben is producing, starring heavyweight Bruce Willis. Unfortunately Willis shows up with a grizzly beard and a huge gut. Of course, the studio will drop the picture unless he shaves the beard, loses the gut and looks more like a leading man. So now we have Willis acting like the prima Donna as he throws fits and refuses to concede. It’s supposed to be hilarious because Bruce Willis is a star who you’d think wouldn’t act like this.

The only real story in the film that has any true feeling is Ben’s relationship with his ex-wife Kelly (Robin Wright Penn). They’re attempting to split amicably -- for their kids – but they both still have feelings. The scenes Penn and De Niro have are actually touching and insightful. They’re believably confused about what to do and you actually do root for Ben to win her back, somehow, even if that’s not the best solution.

For a film by and starring Hollywood heavyweights about the business they are in, you’d think there would be some true insight. Instead we are stuck with the bland studio garbage that the film, itself, is poking fun at.