An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn

Year of Release: 1998
Country of Origin: United States
Directed by Alan Smithee (Arthur Hiller)
Main cast: Ryan O’Neal, Eric Idle, Coolio, Chuck D, Richard Jeni, Leslie Stefanson, Sandra Bernhard, Harvey Weinstein, Sylvester Stallone, Whoopi Goldberg, Jackie Chan

What the guide says: “Any film with Robert Evans and Billy Barty in its cast can’t be ignored but this leaden, sophomoric Hollywood satire ought to be. Idle plays a filmmaker named Alan Smithee, but since that’s also the pseudonym directors must use when they don’t want screen credit, he’s stuck when he wants to disown his latest movie. As one character says of the film-within-a-film, ‘It’s worse than Showgirls.’ The ultimate irony: this film’s director, Arthur Hiller, removed his name after squabbling with writer/producer Joe Eszterhas.”

Screenshot (14)Please to note: The onscreen title is actually just Burn Hollywood Burn. Now you know. And Knowing is half the battle. Or something

I’d like to start out this post by talking a bit out cinema masochism.
“Why in the fuck do you sit through all these awful movies?” You might ask as you sit in front of the fire in your library, sipping your expensive cognac, your face a smug mask of smug. “What in the holy fucking fuck is wrong with you?”

Screenshot (15)I’m watching a movie with this screen credit, so the answer is probably “an awful lot”

My answer, after I knock your brandy to the floor and steal one of your fancy cigars, is that it’s not so much a type of masochism (the overwhelming desire to feel Cenobite levels of blissful suffering) as it is the symptom of a lifelong obsession with cinema. The problem with being a film nerd is that even though the medium is barely over 100 years old and large chunks of its history is missing forever, you will still never be able to see everything. And when you love movies as much as I do, you want to see everything. Hundreds of films are released every year in many many countries, there are so many avenues to head down, so many genres to explore that it will literally take you a life time to see the films you’ve even heard about.  And even though it would still be a futile effort if I sat 24 hours a day and did nothing but watch movies for the rest of my life (possibly while devouring blocks of cheese the size of car batteries), I still have to try and see everything I can,  both good and bad. And hey, sometimes the films that everyone thinks are awful might actually be something I end up digging. That’s happened more times than I can count, probably due to my odd tastes. I will come clean and admit that I like trash. No, that’s not quite true. I fucking love trash. It feeds my soul and fills me like some people get filled by religion or reruns of The Oprah Winfrey Show.  It’s not that I don’t love great movies as well, because I do, but a bad film will often get a pass simply because it entertained me, regardless of its actual quality, if any.
I will say this as well, in the almost two decades that I’ve been continually bitten and sucked dry by the film bug, I have seen a lot of shit movies. A lot. A good many of them were fun, a lot of them pissed me off, a few of them made me physically ill. But I don’t think I’ve seen a terrible film yet that made me as completely bored as Burn Hollywood Burn made me.

Screenshot (26)I would say that this was my face while watching this crud but that’s pretty much my face when I watch anything with Ryan O’Neal in it

It took me two tries to finish this thing, and that never ever happens. The first time was on Monday and I got about 40 minutes in before I realized that I had no idea who anyone was talking about and what was going on because my mind kept wandering away to more pleasant valleys. It was a curious feeling. I’m usually pretty good at keeping focused on even really dull movies. It’s a talent I’ve developed over years and years of film watching, the patience to keep going even when the movie isn’t engrossing or even interesting. But this one beat me. What the fuck was going on?

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Pictured: Prolific character actor Stephen Tobolowsky and posters for movies I would much much rather be watching

On Friday I started it again and was able to get through it because goddammit I’ve never not finished a movie and I’m not going to start now but Holy Hell! This is a boring film to end all boring films. To start with, it’s a comedy that, even though it thinks it’s funny, it is not funny. Ever. Oh I suppose if you were a Hollywood insider or sleaze bag and hack screenwriter Joe Eszterhas himself, you’d get the references and laugh heartily as it skewered your industry but I got a lot of the jokes and none of it registered one clink on the old laugh-o-meter. But why would you put a comedy into general release that only a small amount of people are going to understand anyway? That doesn’t even register one clink on the old sense-o-meter.

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Ezsterhas doesn’t look like a screenwriter as much as he looks like a dude that you’d have a casual meeting with once,  who’d then steal all your Facebook photos and deposit them in his own personal spank bank folder on his computer

So the jokes are either over your head or so awful that not even a Jr. High school kid that snorts his ADD medication in the back of math class is going to laugh. A bad comedy I could deal with, but a bad comedy that’s set up like a fake documentary that consists mostly of talking heads telling you what happened instead of the film actually showing you? Now that, my friends, is a formula for “please for the love of Cthulhu make this movie stop before any more of my brain cells die and I decide to take up a new hobby of shoving metal objects into light sockets.”

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                                         Do your sides hurt yet? DO THEY???

Even the film gets bored with this lame gimmicky style and abandons it at the “climax.” Then we finally get some onscreen action but it’s too little too late. I can’t even say this film is poorly paced because there’s really no pacing at all. Also no real story, no plot, no point.

Screenshot (16)                It does have unfunny blowjob and fart jokes though. If that’s your thing.

 I usually try and find some value in even the worst pieces of cinematic excrement but I’m really at a loss here. Eric Idle’s performance does at least have some energy but all his role really requires of him is to run around and act like an idiot. He’s also pretty much just doing the same type of character he’s been playing since the Flying Circus days and it just made me wish to shit that I could be watching that instead of this flat mess. This film, rather sadly, almost totally ended his career in Hollywood and after this he really only showed up in cameo roles.

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This is the face of a man who is watching his career fall down a manhole right in front of his eyes

It did the same thing to Joe Eszterhas’s career as well but as to that, good fucking riddance. (on a small side note, I have not seen Showgirls yet and since Showgirls is indeed both Eszterhas’s most infamous film and listed in Maltin’s guide as a certified BOMB, I am going to be watching and writing about Showgirls next. I hear it’s a good bit more “fun” than this movie and I sure as shit hope so for my sanity’s sake.)
I will give the film this: Every one of the celebrities the producers roped into being in it seem to be weirdly on board with everything, which leads me to wonder if they even read the script or, since a lot of the “humor” comes from the graphics that describe each actor, that maybe, just maybe, those weren’t included in the original screenplay. How else do you explain Jackie Chan willing to have himself described as being bad at English, the barrage of “Whoopi Goldberg got fucked over by Ted Danson” jokes, or the references to Sly Stallone being a blithering idiot? Or all the female characters being constantly and hi-lariously described ironically as “feminists?” But then that wouldn’t explain famous producer Robert Evens being willing to play himself as an uncomfortably sleazy pervert with incest fantasies. There’s poking fun at yourself and then there’s just plain fucking mean. I guess there’s some comfort in knowing that maybe Goldberg was willing to say “fuck you” to herself in such a bald hack comedian type of way. Or maybe Joe Esterhauz is just a huge shitbag. Yeah, that’s probably it.

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                                                                Pictured: Much ew

I  really don’t really know what to make of the film’s strange obsession with black culture either. The opening credits are set against some actually kind of cool urban graffiti art (almost tricking you into thinking the following movie might actually be tolerable), the soundtrack is credited to Public Enemy’s Chuck D, and a large part of the film’s climax deals, rather poorly of course, with a rouge team of underground black filmmakers headed by the the man himself and…sigh. Coolio. I guess it was 1998 and having Coolio in your big budget (10 million dollaridoos!) movie wouldn’t have been seen as the poor casting choice it would be now. He did still have a bit of cred left and it was a long nose dive to bad shark movies and gun related arrests in airports. But still, why this focus? It might be the single most interesting thing about this crap pile but it’s still just as pointless and unfunny as everything else.

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Chuck D should be embarrassed, Coolio should just be glad he got a paycheck 

Looking around quickly on IMDB brings up a whole shit ton of people that defend this movie, who claim you need to be a Hollywood insider to really “get” the humor, who try and say that it’s just too smart of a movie for most people to understand. Well, I’m sorry fellow keyboard warriors, but you are wrong and you should feel bad about yourselves. This is not a film to be watched and enjoyed, this is a film to be endured. While a lot of it’s “jokes” about women, black people, and you the average Joe ticket buyer would normally piss me off, the whole thing is just so pancake flat and uninteresting that all I could feel was bored and mildly irritated. This is really one to watch to see just how bad a movie can really be. Then you and I will shut it off, tick it off of our exceedingly long “to watch” lists and then slowly start to forget it exists. We suffered through it, we earned our Hey Duggee! bad film badges, our parents are here to pick us up, hugs all around. Except for you Eszterhaus. You can go jump in a smelly algae covered lake, you bridge troll.

Screenshot (20)                        I think Eszterhaus might have a teeny tiny problem with women…

On a last note: The great Billy Barty is indeed in this movie as himself and it’s a testament to the film’s all around pointlessness that he’s totally wasted in a 30 second cameo part. I mean, the man was in Bride of Frankenstein, The Day of the Locust, and UHF and that’s all you can think to do with him? At least give the man something to do. Fuck’s sake.

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                 I’m pretty sure I had a dream once that looked exactly like this though

My rating:  Still a BOMB. As Roger Ebert put it in his fantastic take down of this crapfest, this feels like something you’d show at the retirement party for a Hollywood executive, not a ten million dollar feature you’d put in front of a general release audience and actually expect them to pay money to see it.  I will give everyone involved a small point for having the testicles to attempt this, but not much else.

Screenshot (29)                        Pictured: Not a whole heaping plate of steaming Yikes. Nope, not at all

Drama film · War Film

The Adventurers

Year of Release: 1970

Country of Origin: United States

Directed by Lewis Gilbert

Main Cast: Bekim Fehmiu, Olivia de Havilland, Leigh Taylor-Young, Thommy Berggren, Rosano Brazzi, Jaclyn Smith

What the Guide Says: “Three hour challenge to the kidneys based on Harold Robbins’ bestseller about fictional South American republic that has a new revolution every two minutes. Incredible mess wastes attractive cast.”

Screenshot (3)Get ready for adventure!

It is a warm sunny day in spring. A happy young child runs through a mountain meadow playfully chasing a puppy. He laughs and the dog playfully nips at his heels as the schmaltzy strings swell on the soundtrack. Suddenly a shot rings out. He looks down to see his puppy lying still, covered in blood. He cries out the dog’s name before turning to see the row of revolutionaries that have killed his friend before taking off for home without a backward glance.

Screenshot (4)Adventure!

This opening immediately brought to my movie soaked brain the 1952 WWII set French film Forbidden Games where a similar thing happens. The difference is that Forbidden Games is a masterpiece and one of the saddest movies I’ve ever seen. The Adventurers, by comparison, is so inept that even something as awful as a small child’s pet getting slaughtered in front of his eyes is rendered campy and kind of funny because there is no buildup. Just “Boom” dead dog let’s move onto the next thing. It’s a movie that wants you to be sad and, like, feeeel things maaaan but it’s too impatient to let anything breathe. Case in point, what happens next.

The small child runs home and is forced to watch as the rebels brutally rape and murder his entire family as he stares in horror, in a scene that was probably much shorter in the original PG cut but in the extended DVD version plays like a sleazy exploitation film as the camera lingers way too long on the bloodshed and sexual violence. Again, it’s kind of funny because it’s so just over the top and awkward. The film has only been running for about ten minutes at this point!
It turns out that this small boy is Dax, the son of a diplomat and he’s quickly rushed off to a mountain stronghold, chaperoned by good old Ernest Borgnine who, like mostly everyone in this goddamn thing is incredibly miscast, his kindly face and cheery smile completely wrong for a character who’s supposed to be a hardened veteran of several brutal revolutions. We also get a lovely scene where he has sex in a lake with a random woman (thankfully we’re spared seeing his little Borgnine) while Dax and his new girl friend Amparo watch from behind some reeds and we get his bit of jaw dropping dialogue:

Amparo: What are they doing now?
Dax: I believe he is raping her. He rapes her, and she rapes him.
Amparo: Let’s do it.
Dax: No! you are too young, and I think I have to kill you afterwards.

Well isn’t that lovely? I think as I sip the coffee I’m consuming to keep myself awake to get through all three hours of this thing. Someone wrote that and put it in the mouth of a small child. Just lovely.

“Nothing has been left out of The Adventurers” except for dignity and a sense of shame

At any rate, we are not at this compound very long because the rebels have regrouped and we get more gratuitous slaughter as they wipe out every single person they find on the mountain as Dax and Amparo sneak away. After a looooong montage of the two of them wandering around and digging for food, they rather randomly stumble into the town where Dax’s diplomat father is living and also meet our friend Ernest Borgnine again who takes them both to the embassy. It turns out that the rebels have been wiped out! Hooray! Father and son head back home to bury the dead and let Dax use a submachine gun to administer corporal punishment on several prisoners but it’s general Roho (a rather bored looking Alan Badel) who gives him the gun and not his dad. In any normal movie this would be important but here it’s just a thing that happens like everything else.

Whew! You got all that? Good! Because now it’s time to leave the fictional country of Cortoguay and head to Europe where Dax is sent by his father for safe keeping and schooling. And wouldn’t you know it, this is where we are now going to spend most of our time, only taking occasional trips back to the fictional South American country where you probably thought the movie was going to be set.
Did I mention that this film has a bad case of tonal whiplash? The rest of the running time mostly concerns the exploits of an adult Dax as he has sex with many many women and throws them all away like used tissue paper. What happened to the revolution and Dax’s plan for revenge when Roho rather hilariously kills his father by blowing up a sky tram? Who cares? We’ve got sleaze to be wallowing in. And wallow we shall, in large gratuitous luke warm pools.
This film has a lot of problems. The main one is that it tries for so many things, but fails at pretty much all of them. When it wants you to be sad or shocking it just turns into camp. When it’s trying to be erotic it comes off like a really bad Italian “art porn” film. Take the scene where Dax lays a random girl by a pool while we get constant cut-aways to leering statues that goes on for so long that it starts to feel like parody. Then Dax sees visions of his mother being raped as he stares into the water…which he just ignores and continues with the sex.  Much like everything else in The Adventurers, rape is just a thing that happens that has no bearing on anything else.
Later on he will de-virginize Candice Bergen’s character in a greenhouse and we get almost constant cut-aways to various flowers because IT’S SYMBOLISM OKAY? GET IT???

The other problem is its main actor who plays the adult Dax: Hungarian born Bekim Fehmiu. Fehmiu was all set to be a big thing in Hollywood when this movie came out but its failure at the box office and his awful performance (and also probably his thick Hungarian accent) pretty much put the kibosh on that.

Screenshot (5)You’d better get used to this face because you’re going to be staring at it for over three hours

As far as acting goes, he really only has two modes: completely blank and devoid of any kind of emotion and Al Pacino style yelling. There’s not much in-between. It’s even sadder when he has scenes with the various veteran actors that are scattered throughout this thing who are obviously slumming for a paycheck but still act rings around him. Besides Borgnine, there’s also Olivia de Havilland, a fantastic actress who is completely wasted in a thankless almost cameo sized role as a lonely old woman that Dax acts as gigolo to so his gay best friend can a put on a fashion show which will allow Dax to get rich so he can afford to go back to Cortoguay and eventually kill El Presidente Roho (yes, this is the actual plot of like half the movie). There’s even smaller and more thankless roles for veteran character actors Peter Graves and John Ireland. I really hope they all got nice European vacations out of this.

The only one who is on Fehmiu’s level is Candace Bergen (daughter of ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and future star of Murphy Brown) who gives an laughably awful performance as a rich baron’s daughter that Dax impregnates and then marries, sealing his fortune and giving him an excuse not to return to shit hole Cortoguay again until the movie is pretty much over. In one of the film’s funniest “this is supposed to be shocking and sad, so why are you laughing?” moments a pregnant Bergen sits on a swing and asks Dax to push her. The swing chain snaps and she slams into the ground, resulting in the loss of her baby. Much like the puppy at the start of the film, this should be achingly sad but it’s so sudden and handled with such indifference that it made me laugh so hard I almost woke my kids up.

Screenshot (6)Lol

When Bergen finds out that her unborn child is dead she over emotes like she’s in an early silent film and is trying to get emotion across without sound.
This is also the point where an already unlikable Dax becomes a total monster as he abandons his wife so he can fuck more women and get more money. I think the film somehow wants us to live through him vicariously and revel in his playboy exploits but anyone that does so can please stay the hell away from me and my family.

Screenshot (7)“Why won’t this film end????”

In any normal film this would be the point where the end credits would mercifully roll but because this is The Adventurers we only get an intermission, helpfully restored to the DVD version because why the fuck not? It was at this point that I really started to lust after my nice warm bed but at least the last chunk of the movie mostly showcases what the film does best: pretty impressive (IE expensive) war scenes with lots of the spilled red and stuff getting blowed up real good.  The film knows when to start with the explosives, I’ll give it that. At least it kept me awake.

Screenshot (11)Translation: “Sorry, asshole. You’ve got almost an hour and a half of this trash heap left”

The Adventurers is a baffling film. So much that happens is just so incredibly random. There’s a business man, played by Charles Aznavour, who doesn’t really get his character built up much before he double crosses Dax and gets taken out. The only thing we really learn about him is that he has a bizarre sound proof sex dungeon that opens through a secret panel in the wall that his even wife doesn’t know about. What is the point of showing this to Dax (and us)? It makes no sense at all.

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Seriously: What. The. Fuck?

Why is there a fashion show that looks like a disco nightmare and goes on for what feels like an eternity?
Why is the whole middle section (over two hours!) of the movie full of events and characters that don’t contribute anything to the plot and essentially mean nothing?
Why would you spend so much money and expend so much effort on something that at its base is nothing but sleazy trash?
Why is this movie over three hours long???
I think the answer to all of those questions is this: It was the beginning of the 1970s, and there was cocaine going around. Lots and lots and lots of cocaine.

Screenshot (13)At least it looks expensive. I guess that counts for something

My rating: Plus one * for the sweeping war scenes, tank battles, and that part where they blow up a whole friggin’ train
Plus one * for the high camp value
Minus one half * for being so goddamn long and pointless
= *½ stars

Screenshot (10)If I could sum this film up with a single image…