WHAT JUST HAPPENED
Release Date: October 31, 2008
Audience: Older teenagers and adults
Runtime: 113 minutes
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures
Director: Barry Levinson
Writer: Art Linson
Address Comments To:Bill Banowski, CEO, Magnolia Pictures
1614 West 5th St.
Austin, TX 78703
Eamon Bowles, President, Magnolia Pictures
43 West 27th St., 7th Floor
New York, NY 10001
Phone: (212) 924-6701; Fax: (212) 924-6742
Email: info@ magpictures.com
The movie stars Robert DeNiro as a producer named Ben who’s just made an arty action movie with Sean Penn, directed by a crazed British director. A preview of the movie bombs because the director ends the movie by killing a dog as well as Penn’s character. The female studio chief, played by Catherine Keener, orders the producer and the director to re-cut the movie, but the director adamantly refuses.
During the rest of the story, Ben tries to manipulate things to get the director to change his mind. He even tries to enlist the help of the director’s agent.
At the same time, Ben has to deal with problems related to his second ex-wife (whom Ben still loves), her secret boyfriend and his high school daughter. Along the way, he also has to confront a crazed Bruce Willis, who plays a wild version of himself. Bruce refuses to shave off the silly beard he’s grown for Ben’s next action movie, but the studio refuses to make the picture unless Bruce shaves it off.
Things come to a head on the first day of shooting the Bruce Willis movie and at the premier of the Sean Penn movie at the Cannes Film Festival. Failure at either place could make Ben persona non grata in Hollywood.
Despite the graphic scenes of shooting the dog and much foul language, WHAT JUST HAPPENED is very funny when DeNiro’s character is dealing with the Bruce Willis problem or the problem with the Sean Penn movie. In these scenes, DeNiro performance may remind viewers of his exasperated character in the hugely entertaining action movie MIDNIGHT RUN.
The other, more dramatic moments in WHAT JUST HAPPENED are not as interesting, however. Ultimately, the movie doesn’t really give viewers an emotional background or insight to the protagonist’s personal goals and motives. Apparently, he just wants to keep his career going well, get back with his second ex-wife and connect with his daughter so he can guide her. These goals are not bad. Far from it. It’s just that the protagonist doesn’t have a well-defined set of faith or values to make viewers care whether he succeeds. Also, the movie does not really define the stakes he is risking if he doesn’t meet his goals. Losing his career, his daughter and his ex-wife are the obvious things he’s risking, but what difference would these things really make in his life?
WHAT JUST HAPPENED has plenty of strong foul language and some brief, but very strong, graphic violence. It also has some sexual content and brief drug references. All of these things, and the movie’s lackluster worldview and dramatic viewpoint, deserve extreme caution and only two stars.
WHAT JUST HAPPENED is mildly interesting and sometimes hilarious, but there’s plenty of strong foul language, some brief, but very strong, graphic violence, sexual content, and light drug references. The performances are strong, but the movie’s content warrants extreme caution.