Joe Pesci stars in a muddy mix of satire, rage Levinson's take on Hollywood

March 30, 1994|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Staff Writer

"Jimmy Hollywood" is director Barry Levinson's attempt to make a movie that simultaneously articulates urban rage and satirizes the film industry. Chalk it up somewhere between "Young Sherlock Holmes" and "Toys" as another of the duds that Levinson tends to make when he strays too far from his home ground of Baltimore.

The hero of "Jimmy Hollywood" is Jimmy Alto (Joe Pesci), an ex-tin man from Jersey who's been suckered by the Hollywood (( dream. He's not even an out-of-work actor; he never had any work to begin with.

Jimmy has a nice, pretty girlfriend, Lorraine (Victoria Abril), who worries about him, and a sweet, none-too-bright best friend, Will (Christian Slater), who apparently suffered permanent mental and emotional damage when his father took him to see one of the "Mummy" movies when he was six.

Jimmy's furious because Hollywood, once peopled by giants like David O. Selznick, is now inhabited by crack dealers, thugs, prostitutes and other varieties of lumpen urban scum. When one of the latter smashes Jimmy's car window and steals the radio, Jimmy and Will wait up all night to try to videotape the thief in action and catch him.

After subduing the hapless criminal, using guns loaded with blanks, they anonymously drop him off, tied up with the incriminating videotapes, at the police station.

Because Will signs their note "S.O.S.," thus suggesting that they're members of a vigilante group, Jimmy soon discovers they've become the biggest news story in town.

"Why'd you do that?" the initially furious Jimmy asks.

"A letter has to have a signature," the blissfully dumb Will responds. "So I decided to use the initials of that guy you're always talking about -- the one that made "Gone with the Wind."

"That was David O. Selznick, stupid," Jimmy says. "Not Steven Spielberg!"

But Jimmy sees the dramatic possibilities of playing a vigilante. Even if it's real life, rather than the movies, it's the role of a lifetime. He hunts down more criminals and sends video messages, with his face in shadow, to TV news stations. He calls himself "Jericho," the spokesperson for S.O.S., an acronym for "Save Our Streets" that grows, as Jimmy's delusions of grandeur do, into "Save Our Souls."

Levinson, like the rest of us, has paid attention to the role home videos have played in dramatizing urban crime.

What's wrong with this movie -- aside from the fact that its jokes aren't clever, it's poorly paced and it isn't well written -- is that it tries to be two movies.

On the one hand, it works the vigilante-urban rage genre, whose lineage dates to "Taxi Driver" and the first "Death Wish."

But it also attempts a variation on Hollywood satires such as "The King of Comedy" and "The Player."

It's an idea that may have looked good on the storyboard, but proves too difficult to execute. Levinson is too genial a director to create the hard edge necessary for such biting movies. And they're such different types of movies that the task of combining them would have required a genius director -- which Levinson, even at his considerable best, is not. Even the redoubtable Martin Scorsese -- who worked each field with distinction in "The King of Comedy" and "Taxi Driver" -- needed to keep the genres separate.

"Jimmy Hollywood" spins -- very slowly -- in circles as it tries to cover all the bases in two different ball parks. There are no movie-saving star performances here, either -- as there were when Robin Williams and Dustin Hoffman, respectively, redeemed the otherwise hapless "Good Morning, Vietnam" and "Rain Man." Joe Pesci, wearing an awful blond wig that rivals the one he wore in Oliver Stone's "J.F.K.," plays Joe Pesci -- a very small man with a very bad temper.

The lovely Victoria Abril is wasted as the girlfriend, and, as the sweet nincompoop, Will, Christian Slater looks and sounds as if he walked in from a failed screen test for the part of Arnie, the autistic brother in "Gilbert Grape."

MOVIE REVIEW

"Jimmy Hollywood"

Stars: Joe Pesci, Victoria Abril, Christian Slater

Director: Barry Levinson

Studio: Baltimore Pictures

Rating: PG

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