Bram stoker, the author of dra- cula, worked for a while as the personal secretary of Henry Irving, one of the great stars of the Victorian theatre. No wonder he wrote a book whose villain was a charismatic figure who literally sucked the life force out of those who got too close.In America's Sweethearts, Julia Roberts plays Kiki, the personal assistant and sister of Gwen (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a monstrously self-absorbed movie star who has dumped her long-time significant other and co-star Eddie (John Cusack) and has made two bombs without him.
She now must be persuaded to attend a junket promoting her latest film, Time Over Time ("He went into the past to save her future!"), which will force her to come face to face with her ex.
The official Roberts line on her decision to play Kiki -- she was offered Gwen -- was that Kiki had more "nuances." That's star-speak, of course. What it really means is that Kiki is the more sympathetic character.
And don't tell Zeta-Jones that her character has fewer nuances. In a film loaded with brilliant comic turns -- from Hank Azaria's hilariously over-the-top Spanish stud to Stanley Tucci's calculatingly hysterical studio head, from Christopher Walken's virtual walk-on as an eccentric film director to Alan Arkin's cameo as a curiously accented therapist -- Zeta-Jones gives a gorgeous performance as a pampered star, playing the character as a hideous mutant cross between a Persian cat and a black widow spider.
In Roberts's best scene, she falls off the diet wagon and orders what I think of as a Las Vegas breakfast (eggs, sausages, pancakes and waffles). Suddenly, we see that she is, indeed, her sister's sister when she starts wondering why her extra butter isn't here right now, goddammit!
The film's portrayal of a press junket is a bit exaggerated -- but, then, I've never been on a junket where there was any question whether the film itself would show up. I have been on one where the stars didn't turn up. Someday, when we have time, I'll tell you about the junket for The House Of The Spirits. ("Meryl has the flu.")
AMERICA'S SWEETHEARTS directed by Joe Roth, written by Billy Crystal and Peter Tolan, produced by Crystal, Donna Arkoff Roth and Susan Arnold, with Julia Roberts, John Cusack, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Crystal and Hank Azaria. 100 minutes. A Revolution Films production. A Columbia release. Opens Friday (July 20). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 64. Rating: NNN