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A down-and-out film producer agrees to make his nephew's film about 19th century English statesman Benjamin Disraeli, but can only get financing if he casts a well-known action star. Production is halted however, when the lead actor is kidnapped, so the producer hatches a scheme with a struggling creative executive to save the star and the movie. Written by
The Deal is a wacky and frenetic Hollywood insider movie about a movie, in the spirit of Altman's The Player or Mamet's State and Main. Written by and starring the extremely talented William H. Macy and directed by his long-time friend and veteran TV movie director Steven Schachter, The Deal is part vanity piece, part industry insider self-indulgence and wholly funny.
Macy plays Charlie Berns, a one-hit wonder Hollywood producer with no money and no prospects and on the verge of suicide. Interrupting his plans is his nephew Lionel (Jason Ritter), who knocks on his door at the propitious moment, carrying his script about Benjamin Disraeli and looking for Uncle Charlie's help in Hollywood. Ignoring the script, Charlie returns to his morbid task, only to spot an article about a blockbuster action-hero movie star (L.L. Cool J) who has recently converted to Judaism and is looking for a Jewish film for his next project. Seeing a glimmer of hope, Charlie hatches an outrageous seat-of-your-pants scheme to coerce a studio into approving this preposterous pairing. Assigned to the project is Diedre Hearn, a second-tier studio exec (played by Meg Ryan, still trying to transition from her girl-next-door pedigree). Charlie is smitten, and resurrected, "Ben Disraeli Freedom Fighter" gets green-lighted and the fun begins. There's even a role for Elliott Gould, playing a rabbi who serves as a technical adviser and "Assistant Producer" to the film! I guess Macy decided that at 57 if he was ever going to play a leading man, he was going to have to personally drive the project. And he has written himself a plum rolea multi-dimensional character with a lot of funny lines and Meg Ryan as a love interest! Charlie Berns has suffered all the indignities that Hollywood can dish out. But he's learned enough tricks, and developed enough chutzpah that with a little luck he can really work the system. Macy plays the role with unflappable charm and impeccable comic timing.
The script bounces around a bit, and probably bounces a couple of times too many. The "resolution" feels a little like an add-on, and perhaps could have been left out. So while I doubt this movie will do great things at the box office, it certainly entertained the Sundance crowd.
Sundance Moment: Macy told the long story of how difficult it was to get the project funded, which is a recurring Sundance (and Hollywood) theme. They passed out red yarmulkas to the crowd, and many wore them while watching the movie.
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