The Deal



Sundance Film Festival

PARK CITY -- Hollywood satires are always an iffy proposition. They can often seem too insular and inbred to capture a general audience. Yet there are classics in the genre, going back to "Singin' in the Rain." And the HBO hit series "Entourage" offers a lot of wickedly funny insider insights. But "The Deal," which had its world premiere here, is a wacky Hollywood satire that never catches fire.

The film began with a novel by Peter Lefcourt, who once toiled in Hollywood himself and has recently become better known as a novelist. But this is one of those outrageous comic tales that probably worked better on the page. When something is translated to the more literal medium of film, it needs a minimal grounding in reality, which this film lacks.

Here's the premise: Charlie Berns (William H. Macy) is a has-been producer on the verge of suicide when his nephew (Jason Ritter) comes knocking on his door with a new script based on the life of Benjamin Disraeli, the long-ago British prime minister. Sounds like a hard sell, but it turns out that Hollywood's top black action star, Bobby Mason (LL Cool J), has recently converted to Judaism and is seeking movies with Jewish themes.

The story of Disraeli might not seem like the easiest fit for Bobby, but Charlie has the idea of revamping and modernizing it. So it turns into "Ben Disraeli, Freedom Fighter," which allows for plenty of mayhem along with Hebrew blessings for the star to deliver while he kicks butt.

On paper, the story might sound amusing, but it is so far-fetched that we never buy into a minute of it. This might have been a lesser problem if the script were wittier, but the laughs are very intermittent, to put it kindly, and so we are left to contemplate the unlikeliness of all the plot developments. The film bears some resemblance to Steve Martin's "Bowfinger," another film about a failed producer trying to get into business with a successful black movie star. But that film, while equally far-fetched, was sidesplittingly funny thanks to splendid writing and acting.

Nothing seems even remotely plausible in "The Deal," which has been adapted by Macy and director Steven Schachter, long-term pals who worked together on several acclaimed television movies. The script's implausibility carries over to the central relationship between Charlie and a savvy studio executive, Deidre Hearn (Meg Ryan).

At first, Deidre is understandably skeptical of Charlie, but when she learns that her studio has been sold to a Canadian company, she gets drunk and jumps into bed with Charlie, a leap that is almost impossible to accept. But even small plot points defy credibility. When a studio suit arrives to shut down the production, Charlie decides to distract him with a hooker. We can accept that she might delay his visit to the set for three hours, but three days?

Macy does bring a lot of energy to his role, and Ryan also gives a shrewd performance when the script doesn't ask her to behave improbably. Most of the supporting players are rather flat, but Elliott Gould has an amusing cameo as Bobby's rabbi, hired as an associate producer on the film.

Much of the film was shot in South Africa, where the film-within-the-film goes to save money. No doubt that was the same reason for the location work on "The Deal." Technical credits are strong. Boxoffice prospects are dim.

Peace Arch Entertainment
Muse Entertainment
Director: Steven Schachter
Screenwriters: William H. Macy, Steven Schachter
Based on the novel by: Peter Lefcourt
Producers: Michael Prupas, Irene Litinsky, Keri Nakamoto
Executive producers: Gary Howsam, Lewin Webb, Jason Bark, Matt Lane
Director of photography: Paul Sarossy
Production designer: Guy Lalande
Music: Jeff Beal
Editors: Matthew Friedman, Susan Maggi
Charlie Berns: William H. Macy
Deidre Hearn: Meg Ryan
Bobby Mason: LL Cool J
Lionel Travitz: Jason Ritter
Rabbi Seth Gutterman: Elliott Gould
Fiona Hicks: Fiona Glascott
Levi Rosenwald: Sharon Reginiano
Nigel Bland: John Carson
Grier Clark: David Hunt
Ian Chadwick: Jeremy Crutchley
Running time -- 98 minutes
No MPAA rating