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MOVIE REVIEW : There's No Business Like Show Business? : Joe Pesci is well-cast as Barry Levinson's 'Jimmy Hollywood,' an actor waiting for his big break who finds his best role in real life.

March 30, 1994|KENNETH TURAN | TIMES FILM CRITIC

Directors offering tribute to the acting profession has become a mini-trend lately, and why not: Where would these auteurs be if the performers weren't there for them? However, in an ironic but inevitable twist, in each case the acting process and lifestyle are filtered through that director's distinctly personal lens.

So while writer-director James L. Brooks' "I'll Do Anything" stressed the wildly neurotic comic insecurity of the profession, Abel Ferrara's "Dangerous Games" (scripted by Nicholas St. John) was a lacerating look at its darker psychological corners. And writer-director Barry Levinson's "Jimmy Hollywood" turns out to be just the kind of flimsy doodle of a movie, amusing but small in scale, you might expect from the director of "Diner" and "Tin Men."

What "Jimmy Hollywood" isn't reminiscent of is the elaborate films Levinson has done most recently, big-ticket items like "Bugsy" and "Toys," with stars like Warren Beatty and Robin Williams attached. While Levinson tends to go too far in the opposite direction here, often ending up with minimal emotional effects, "Jimmy Hollywood" does have its shambling pleasures, starting with Joe Pesci in the title role.

Given the name Jimmy Alto, but known to pals back in New Jersey as Jimmy Hollywood because of his passion for the movies, he is one of those self-absorbed "Day of the Locust"-type characters who hover around the edges of the industry in sunglasses, dyed-blond hair and loud tropical shirts waiting for that one break.

Though success as an actor has easily eluded him (he seems, in fact, never to have actually gotten a part), Jimmy retains full confidence that he knows all the angles and all the answers. Didn't he blow Andy Griffith off the screen in a reading, only to lose the role because of "politics"? And hasn't he just made the shrewd career move of investing in an ad on a bus bench at a particularly high-profile corner of Sunset Boulevard? Like the Energizer Rabbit, Jimmy never ever runs out of steam.

And since the two people in Jimmy's life, his hairdresser girlfriend Lorraine de la Pena (Spanish actress Victoria Abril in her American debut) and his best friend William (Christian Slater), a mentally challenged Hollywood Boulevard street urchin, accept Jimmy the way he is, things probably would have gone on this way forever. Except for the burglary.

One unfortunate night Jimmy's car gets broken into and his radio stolen. Vowing revenge, Jimmy and William stake out the neighborhood with a video camera. One amusingly implausible turn of events leads rapidly to another and suddenly these two find themselves mistaken both by the media and the police for a powerful vigilante organization dedicated to retaking the streets of Hollywood for decent folk.

But before he is anything else, Jimmy is an actor, and the best parts of "Jimmy Hollywood" (curiously reminiscent of "General Della Rovere," the Italian classic starring Vittorio De Sica as a petty criminal whose life changes when he impersonates a resistance leader) involve the way this man embraces vigilante leadership as the role of his life, enabling him to use all the "deep acting stuff" he's been working on for years.

Considerable care has been lavished on Pesci's character, on detailing all the foibles of a man who is so endearingly self-deluded his darkest threat is "you're out of the Oscar speech." Pesci, himself an Oscar winner for "GoodFellas," has a fine time with the part, commanding the screen and almost hypnotizing you with his brash patter.

One of the problems with "Jimmy Hollywood," paradoxically, is that there is too much of Jimmy in it and too little of anything else. Writer-director Levinson appears to have been mesmerized by his title character, to the point where Victoria Abril and especially Christian Slater have had to make do with undernourished roles.

The film's plot has related problems, first taking its time to kick in and grandly bypassing plausibility when it does. Still, Jimmy Hollywood is such a determined character that the cockeyed fable he's lent his name and story to manages to carry you along even as it gets further and further out of hand. Maybe the guy can act after all.

* MPAA rating: R for language. Times guidelines: It features scenes of street crime and vigilante retaliation.

*

'Jimmy Hollywood'

Joe Pesci: Jimmy Alto

Christian Slater: William

Victoria Abril: Lorraine

A Baltimore Pictures production, released by Paramount Pictures. Director Barry Levinson. Producers Mark Johnson, Barry Levinson. Executive producer Peter Giuliano. Screenplay Barry Levinson. Cinematographer Peter Sova. Editor Jay Rabinowitz. Costumes Kirsten Everberg. Music Robbie Robertson. Production design Linda DeScenna. Set decorator Ric McElvin. Running time: 1 hour, 52 minutes.

* In general release throughout Southern California.

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