Sonic Cinema

Sounds, Visions and Insights by Brian Skutle

An Alan Smithee Film Burn Hollywood Burn

Grade : F Year : 1998 Director : Alan Smithee Running Time : 1hr 26min Genre :
Movie review score

Wow…this is a bad film. I mean, I remember feeling that way when I first saw it, but seeing the film for the first time in over a decade…wow. The first few minutes prove that without a question.

“Burn Hollywood Burn” was the last vestige of screenwriter Joe Eszterhas’s “prestige” as one of the highest-paid writers in Hollywood. Sure, he wrote a script that got made back in 2006, and then there’s that whole controversy with Mel Gibson earlier this year after their proposed collaboration fell apart, but Eszterhas is a long way from the financial windfall and power that came with writing “Basic Instinct,” “Showgirls,” “Jade,” “Flashdance,” and “Jagged Edge.” With “Burn Hollywood Burn,” Eszterhas burned his reputation to the ground.

So what is this disaster of a movie? The film is a mock-documentary that recalls the unraveling of a film production, a $200 million action movie starring Sylvester Stallone, Whoopi Goldberg, and Jackie Chan (all playing themselves). The director of the film, Alan Smithee (Eric Idle, long gone from the days of Monty Python), has stolen the negative after it was cut to his dissatisfaction. The producer (a Robert Evans clone played by Ryan O’Neal) suggests he simply take his name off the film and replace it with the Directors Guild of America’s traditional standby of Alan Smithee. But, the director’s name is Alan Smithee…how is that supposed to work?

The film’s production history was actually more interesting than the film itself; well, in a way. You see, “Burn Hollywood Burn” was directed by Arthur Hiller, the former President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, who was so frustrated with the way Eszterhas had cut the film, he removed his own name, and replaced it with, you guessed it, Alan Smithee. That level of meta-reality made the film more notorious than it deserves. There was one interesting thing to come after the film’s release– the DGA retired the name, “Alan Smithee,” from use because, after “Burn Hollywood Burn,” how could anyone take it seriously again?

Watching the film again, I can’t imagine it actually changed SOMETHING about the way Hollywood worked, because from my understanding, not much has really changed about the ways they make movies. They still cost an arm and a leg. They still use armies of writers to rewrite scripts. They still rely on “star power” to sell a movie. And they still take films away from directors if they don’t think “it works.” Of course, it kind of makes sense than Hollywood wouldn’t learn anything from this movie because, well, it’s shit. At one point, Smithee says of the film he’s made, and hopes to destroy, “It’s worse than ‘Showgirls!'”.

In the case of the film that chronicles his travails, he couldn’t be more right. The “actors,” most of which I won’t disparage by announcing their contribution to this movie, do themselves no favors by admitting their participation. People like Sandra Bernhard, Richard Jeni, Collio, Chuck D., Robert Shapiro, Harvey Weinstein, Robert Evans, Shane Black, Billy Bob Thornton, and others. (Ooops.) The script is dreadful, ridiculously unfunny and offensive on a number of levels. And the final film tries to be hip with a collection of rap tracks and other “cutting edge” musical tracks, but that makes its “satirical” idea of describing all women as “feminists” and considering all African-American filmmakers as interchangable fall flat all the more. What a sorry state of filmmaking. What else can be said about the worst movie in Hollywood history?

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