Fred Willard's faux-hawk is possibly the best thing about Christopher Guest's "For Your Consideration," a spoof of Oscar season hype co-written with Eugene Levy. It's funny in parts but not half as inspired as past efforts. Still, Willard is a genius at playing dumb, and he knows a kindred hairstyle when he sees one.
Taking the world's most ludicrous coif to its loftiest and most poignant dimensions, he plays Chuck Porter, the moronic co-host of an "Entertainment Tonight"-style show he anchors with the only marginally less stupid Cindy Martin (Jane Lynch). Together they make up an important part of the official brainless echo chamber for the entertainment-industrial complex, repeating rumors until they start to become a little bit true.
When a writer for a little-known website visits the set of the low-budget weepie called "Home for Purim" and remarks that the overripe performance of its lead, Marilyn Hack (Catherine O'Hara), is "Oscar-worthy," he unleashes a chain reaction of hysteria and hubris. Word gets back to Marilyn, whose career has seen better decades, and it isn't long before everybody has heard the news.
One rumor leads to another, and soon Marilyn's movie husband, Victor Allan Miller (Harry Shearer), is mentioned as a possible nominee as well, followed by their movie daughter Callie Webb (Parker Posey). Before long, Marilyn and Victor are taping morning shows and basking in the glow of nomination speculation. Only Callie's real-life boyfriend and movie brother, Brian Chubb (Christopher Moynihan), is left out of the trophy lust-fueled conflagration that ensues.
Guest, who co-wrote and starred in "This Is Spinal Tap" long before directing "Waiting for Guffman," "Best in Show" and "A Mighty Wind," gets the most out of seemingly throwaway details like hairstyles and names and Marilyn's petty cruelty to her friends -- details he uses to express some combination of hope, despair and utter self-delusion in his characters. When not shielded from life by their insulating inanity, they tend to be has-beens and dreamers of middling to bag-of-rocks intelligence, wary optimists who get their hopes up gradually only to see them dashed suddenly.
"For Your Consideration" is the first of Guest's films to be filmed as a narrative rather than a mock-documentary, but somehow it still feels a little played out and in need of a rest. "Waiting for Guffman" and "Best in Show" had a buoyancy and freshness that don't come through here. Maybe it's the Hollywood setting, which forms a thin crust of cynicism around the story, but there's something a little too bleak about the broken Hollywood dreams trope and with its stereotypes of stereotypes.
Marilyn, the blowsy, would-be grande dame, is all sublimated bitterness and befuddlement. Victor, the consummate showman (best known as a hot dog pitchman), uses his laser-white teeth to deflect humiliation. Levy, John Michael Higgins and Jennifer Coolidge play Victor's fair-weather agent, the movie's clueless publicist and its rock-dumb heiress/producer. Ricky Gervais makes a brief appearance (flanked even more briefly by Sandra Oh) as the clueless studio suit who steps in at a critical moment to make the movie "appeal to a broader audience." Horrified, screenwriters Philip Koontz (Bob Balaban) and Lane Iverson (Michael McKean) take immediate action by grumbling, pouting and looking aggrieved.
The movie does have its flashes of genius. "Home for Purim," the movie, is set in the Deep South, where Yiddish is spoken with a drawl. In the "Hollywood Now" intros, Cindy and Chuck compete to demonstrate just how ridiculous Hollywood fashion styling can be. And a spoof of movie review shows called "Love It or Hate It," in which one reviewer loves everything and the other hates it all, is hilarious in its reductive absurdity.
As a bicultural person (Guest was born Haden-Guest to a British father and American mother), the director finds humor in the American cult of infinite possibility. But in this instance, Guest's satire starts to border on cruelty to minerals.
MPAA rating: PG-13 for sexual references and brief language. Running time 1 hour, 26 minutes. In general release.