8 July 1999 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

After forging a career based on putting his words in others' mouths, awards show writer extraordinaire (and frequent "Hollywood Square") Bruce Vilanch has the spotlight all to himself in the lively if somewhat superficial "Get Bruce!"

Being screened as part of Outfest '99 in Los Angeles, the star-studded documentary serves up sparkling testimonies from many who rank the busy joke doctor high on their speed-dial lists-- Robin Williams, Billy Crystal and Whoopi Goldberg among them -- but doesn't dig too deeply when it comes to profiling the colorful man himself and his rather driven work ethic.

Still, the parade of celeb endorsements and behind-the-scenes verbal jam sessions make for entertaining viewing, giving the Miramax release a bouncy, stellar edge over the average grouping of talking heads.

Director Andrew J. Kuehn takes a fairly conventional route in tracing Vilanch's trek from Chicago Tribune feature writer to the man who Nathan Lane says has given more great lines to celebrities than a Hollywood coke dealer.

An appreciative phone call from Bette Midler regarding a column he had written about her in the early 1970s led to Vilanch contributing patter to Midler's shows, including those now obligatory Sophie Tucker jokes.

Vilanch rapidly earned a reputation as a quipster who works quickly under pressure, and in the ensuing years he would go on to write for everyone from, in his words, Abba to Zadora.

The film works best from a craft perspective, showing how Vilanch adjusts his working methods to fit the various personalities of his collaborators. In the case of Williams, Vilanch says, "You don't write for Robin, you write at Robin. You kind of throw the material into the cage." When it comes to working with Crystal -- including coming up with material for his Oscar-hosting gigs -- it's like watching a game of verbal handball, with the players lobbing concepts and punch lines back and forth at a breakneck pace.

But when it comes to addressing what makes the main subject tick, Kuehn doesn't get much more intimate than taking the viewer into Vilanch's closet for a guided tour of his extensive T-shirt collection and flipping through the old family photo album. For the most part, he remains hidden behind those big red glasses and all that shaggy hair.

Production-wise, there's a nice backstage feel to Jose Luis Mignone's camera work, while Ann-Margret coos the Michael Feinstein-penned title theme song with Vegas-y panache.

GET BRUCE!

Miramax Films

An AJK production

Director:Andrew J. Kuehn

Producer:Andrew J. Kuehn

Executive producers:Gregory McClatchy & Susan B. Landau

Director of photography:Jose Luis Mignone

Music:Michael Feinstein

Editor:Maureen Nolan

Color/stereo

Cast: Bruce Vilanch, Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, Bette Midler, Whoopi Goldberg, Rosie O'Donnell, Raquel Welch, Roseanne, Carol Burnett, Sigourney Weaver, Nathan Lane, Shirley MacLaine, Elizabeth Taylor, Lily Tomlin, etc.

Running time -- 105 minutes

No MPAA rating


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