This week’s new movie releases, including The Book of Henry and All Eyez On Me, sound oddly familiar
Matthew Lickona 3 p.m., June 16
Robert Altman's addition to the Hollywood-on-Hollywood library certainly lifted his sagging reputation, though the reasons for its critical success may have had less to do with its intrinsic merits than with its usefulness as a discussion starter, a conversational ice-breaker. More like dam-breaker. It gave the critic an opening to sound off ad libitum on the ills of Nineties Hollywood, and it gave him a "maverick" moviemaker (or "renegade" or "rogue" or "rebel" moviemaker) around whom to rally with a show of warm fellow feeling. Even the less predisposed onlooker ought to be able to find here numerous opportunities to murmur a word of assent. Comparable to Fellini's 8-1/2, though in a different degree and a different direction, The Player goes a long way towards explaining why it is so difficult to get a decent movie made. Over and above a couple of allusions to the phenomenon of the "test screening" (i.e., veto power of the average viewer, artistic decision-making by popular referendum), the main obstacle, actually illustrated instead of just alluded to, is seen to be "the pitch" -- that twenty-five-words-or-less session in which a hopeful screenwriter lobbies to get the green light from a market-minded studio executive ("Not unlike Ghost meets The Manchurian Candidate"). Of course the potential of the movie for education and enlightenment, as opposed to the potential for displays of knowingness on the part of those already enlightened, is not great. Because it's an Altman movie -- and all that that entails -- the class in attendance will tend to be smallish, to say nothing of smuggish. Then, too, what can be taken here as Hollywood satire or Hollywood commentary or Hollywood grouching (the tone is rather too jaded, too resigned, too blasé for satire) makes up only a small fraction of the total movie. The rest of it is made up of something that might be categorized as a mystery-thriller. That fraction, although it takes us away from the more interesting and entertaining fraction, admittedly gives the movie more impetus than the average Altman movie; but it doesn't give it -- because, after all, it is nevertheless an Altman movie -- as much impetus as the average thriller. With Tim Robbins, Greta Scacchi, Whoopi Goldberg, and sixty-five (so they say) celebrity cameos. 1992.