Monday, April 7, 2008

'The Deal' worthy of major distribution

Friday's opening night film of the Sarasota Film Festival attracted a large and eager audience, hoping to get a glimpse of a few Hollywood stars and enjoy William H. Macy's new, locally-invested film "The Deal."

I could tell from the laughs at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, where the film was screened, that it was a sure-fire hit. Audience members I interviewed afterwards couldn't say enough good things about the movie.

Fun all around, "The Deal" is a great romantic comedy about the ups and downs of movie-making and one washed-up producer's (Charlie Berns, played by Macy) last attempt to make a movie deal despite the odds. He cleverly railroads a movie studio into financing a kung-fu flick called "Ben Disreali — Freedom Fighter," tricks his nephew Lionel (Jason Ritter) into thinking the studio is producing his script based on a 19th-century British Parliament debate and cajoles black-action-hero-star-turned-Jew, Bobby Mason (LL Cool J), to sign on and stay on the film project as well. Until Bobby gets kidnapped by terrorists, that is. And Charlie, with the help of studio executive development director Deidre Hearn (Meg Ryan), finds a way to keep filming — changing the plot once more.

Macy shines as Charlie, who appears particular obnoxious in the beginning, especially when trying to flatter and pull the wool over the eyes of Deidre, who believes he's a film producing fake. But eventually, she's charmed by Charlie's determination.

It's great watching Macy and Ryan's characters interact in the film. "The Deal" itself is filled with funny one-liners and terrific laugh-out-loud scenes with LL Cool J, Elliott Gould (who plays a clueless Rabbi/film consultant who helps Jew-ify Charlie's flick), Fiona Glascott (who plays Bobby's on-screen love interest) and others. By the way, Glascott has a fabulously funny scene with grenades in the flick.

My only quibble with "The Deal," though, is that it could have used a little more character/plot development — just a few extra sentences of dialogue thrown here and there to give a more complete picture of Charlie. It's amazing what a sentence or two can do to strengthen a film even more. Showing shots of newspaper articles on Charlie's past and his depressed face when he's attempting a subtle suicide at the beginning of "The Deal" just isn't enough. Neither does it help when he gets the brilliant idea to turn his nephew's screenplay into an action film from starring at newspapers articles featuring Bobby. A brief, spoken epiphany would have been nice here. But then the film pulls you into the next scene and, if you don't already have an idea of what's going to happen, you have to play catch up.

"The Deal" really begins to take off when the action moves to Cape Town, Africa, where Charlie's pipe-dream of a flick begins shooting, offering us a behind-the-scenes look at film making. From this point of "The Deal," the comedy just keeps getting better.

It's the type of movie I wouldn't mind seeing again and again just for the fun of it. — January Holmes

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