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[whitespace] 'The Muse'
Wise Guys: Albert Brooks (right) seeks cinematic advice from Martin Scorsese.

Hollywood Peace

Albert Brooks' forced comedy 'The Muse' is a disappointment

By Richard von Busack

UNBEARABLE IN DEFEAT and insufferable in victory, the persona of Albert Brooks is one of the funniest curmudgeon figures in American movies today. In him, the mask of the evolved, sensitive guy is stretched over the face of a needy, selfish wreck. Unfortunately, Brooks' sixth and weakest movie, The Muse, goes against the character he's built up. His newest character, Steven Phillips, is a mild, gentle sort of guy. He's a scriptwriter pushing retirement age (50, that is) in a Hollywood that has no further use for his talents. Even Phillips' 12-year-old daughter knows that her father has "lost his edge."

Fortunately, Phillips finds out that an actual muse is loose in Hollywood, and he wangles a meeting with her. The muse, Sarah Little (Sharon Stone), is very Industry--she demands fancy food, gifts and hotel suites. In exchange for her requirements, Phillips gets ideas for a hit script. But he has to share Sarah's attentions with his wife (Andie MacDowell) and half of the name directors in Hollywood: Rob Reiner, James Cameron and Martin Scorsese, all of whom make cameo appearances in this comedy.

As Sarah, Stone is a one-joke, little-girlish conniver who sashays around in kimonos and pajamas, flirting through a geisha's fan. She's funny when she bursts into tears because she's been denied a Waldorf salad. But her character has no twist; Brooks stooges for her, and slapstick has never been his forte. We're used to MacDowell as the most bland of screen mommies; she's been that way for years now. Even so, it's insulting that the only inspiration Sarah's muse brings the wife is the inspiration to get her hair done and start baking cookies. (The idea is that Mrs. Phillips will go professional and become the next Mrs. Fields. Come to think of it, since Stone is seen here in Ani DiFranco braids, she's probably not working as the muse of hair-styling, either.)

The cameo by Scorsese helps this forced little film. In his zizzing energy and intelligence you see an inspiration for any filmmaker or film watcher. And Steven Wright has a rich scene as Steven Spielberg's no-account cousin Stan. Brooks' short films and comedy albums began as wicked satires of the condescension of show-biz. But in The Muse, it looks as if he's made his peace with Hollywood clout, genuflecting before the likes of a James Cameron--and what true Albert Brooks fan wants to hang out with James Cameron's muse? In fact, Sarah's big idea for a summer hit is exactly the sort of picture that Brooks used to skewer when he was a younger man. Is there any other way to read this comedy except that Brooks has been painfully apprised of the reality of the modern movie business--and needs a mainstream hit badly? How I hate to see a genuine original pining to be a copycat.

'The Muse' (PG-13; 97 min.), directed by Albert Brooks, written by Brooks and Monica Johnson, photographed by Thomas Ackerman and starring Albert Brooks, Sharon Stone and Andie MacDowell, opens Friday at selected theaters valleywide.

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From the August 26-September 1, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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