When a rookie filmmaker with the unfortunate name Alan Smithee realizes he's an unwitting studio puppet, being forced to make a big-budget action film he knows is horrible, he steals the master reels and tries to make a deal.
Director Alan Smithee comes to Hollywood to make a movie. Due to a variety of factors, he decides to disown it and direct it under a pseudonym. Unfortunately, the Director's Guild requires that if a director disowns a movie in this fashion, he *must* use the official Director's Guild pseudonym...which happens to be Alan Smithee. Written by
I am willing to bet that when the principle players in the making of AN ALAN SMITHEE FILM: BURN, H0LLYW00D, BURN got together and read the script they probably found it hilarious. But they were probably drunk, stoned or deep into jet lag at the time. But somewhere between that first reading and the film's release, someone surely must have sobered up and noticed just how badly this film fails to deliver.
The film is bad not just because it is bad, but because it coulda/shoulda been pretty good. Joe Eszterhas's script is sophisticated and savage and full of inside jokes. The direction by Arthur Hiller/Alan Smithee cleverly juggles ideas and viewpoints. And most of the cast give credible performances, even the nonprofessionals who contribute cameos. Obviously, everyone thought they were making a pretty good movie. In the end, the film is smart and pointed and even insightful, but it is never, never, never, never even remotely funny.
It is hard to pinpoint just why the film ends up being so depressingly blah, but a good guess would be that it is a matter of attitude. ALAN SMITHEE is just so insultingly smug. Everybody involved is basically making fun of themselves, but not in jovial, lighthearted way. The self-deprecation is condescending: "See," they all seem to be saying, "I called myself a bastard before you had a chance. Nyah, nyah, nyah!!! I beat you to the punch." I mean what is the point of self mockery if it is intended to belittle someone else? Even the most mean-spirited of satires require a degree of innocence; a posture that allows the audience to find the humor and the hypocrisy for themselves, rather than to have it force fed to them. For instance, the film's structure, basically a series of talking head interviews, demands that the interview blurbs seem spontaneous, not preprocessed and rehearsed. Hiller skillful stages these little snatches of interviews as though they are being given on the fly, in different places and at different times, but they still seem canned. Even the characters' insincerity should seem sincerely insincere, not like tossed-off one-liners at a Friars Club roast. Even though everyone involved is obviously in on the joke, they shouldn't appear to be.
And a major inexplicable problem is the whole black thing the film seems to be doing. This is a satire about a British director and bunch of Beverly Hills/movie studio suits, so why does the film feature rap music, African-American themed title credits and references to black directors? Is black cinema supposed to be the new New Wave or avant-garde? Is it supposed to be like references to beatniks in the fifties and hippies in the sixties, a clumsy attempt to make the squares seem hip and to make the story seem relevant (when ultimately it will only make the film seem quickly dated)? The film can't fake sincerity, why do the filmmakers think they can fake soul?
In the end, ALAN SMITHEE seems to be little more than a home movie, a gag reel to be played at the office Christmas party. If that were the case, I suspect that all involved would still find the material funny. But, what happens at the Christmas party should stay at the Christmas party, otherwise it can just be too embarrassing.
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