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Funnyman Albert Brooks cracks wise about Hollywood in "The Muse."

Be Mused


First "Bowfinger" and now "The Muse" rip on the vagaries, venalities and vapidity of Hollywood and the movie industry. Gosh. You mean it's really not as glamorous a lifestyle as all those fanzines and TV-buzz shows would have us believe? You mean we really should feel happy in our own tidy, unglamorous lives? We should revel in our mundane jobs, maybe even feel a little smug about that slow-growing 401K plan? Praise Heaven! Thank you, Steve Martin; thank you, Albert Brooks. You have shown us the error of our dreams.

But what if you guys are just going through male menopause? As you bemoan your thickening middles you realize you now need big bucks and not funny one-liners to get the girls. Yeah, what if you're really just trying to fend off the competition: younger, leaner, hipper, dare I say, less bitter writers.

Hmmm. Let's examine the latest evidence, writer/director/actor Albert Brooks' "The Muse." As his tale begins, we watch Hollywood screenwriter Steven Phillips being honored with a Humanitarian Award. His award is described as what's given to "everyone who doesn't win an Oscar." In Phillips' acceptance speech, we see the beginnings of bitterness. He likens his career as a Hollywood screenwriter to being "a eunuch at an orgy." OK, this is not a happy, fulfilled person. But then again, when is any Brooks character happy? Brooks' shtick from the very beginning has been the brainy, zany sad sack. Although his alter egos have met with critical success, their financial success has been limited.

Bemoaning this truth via the humiliating experiences of "The Muse's" Phillips, Brooks sets out to tickle our funny bones and teach us a lesson. Brooks presents us with a man desperate for a hit. Just hours after winning that humanitarian award, Phillips is fired by an executive (a charmingly superficial Mark Feuerstein) at Paramount. Phhhttt! Just like that, his three-picture deal is gone. According to the bigwig, Phillips has lost his edge.

The despondent Phillips seeks the wise counsel of his best friend, Zack (Jeff Bridges). Does Zack tell his buddy he's in a slump? Does he bolster his esteem by mentioning the 17 movies made based on Phillips' scripts? No, under the strictest confidence, Zack tells him he's found himself an honest-to-goddess muse. (Note: This is a prime example of Brooks' braininess. I'm betting half the mainstream movie-going public has no idea what or who the muses are/were.)

And who better to play a creative goddess than a screen goddess? Enter Sharon Stone. As Sarah, she is gorgeous. She's also demanding, childish and thoroughly obnoxious. She's a blonde bimbo with great lineage: traceable to Zeus and Mt. Olympus. Or is she? While Stone hasn't tried her hand at comedy before, she acquits herself well here.

Sarah and Steven begin collaborating, much to the suspicious chagrin of wife, Laura (Andie MacDowell). When the two women finally meet, there's no angry divorce. It seems Sarah is not a gender-specific muse. The next thing you know, she's ensconced in Steven and Laura's bedroom at home, and she's inspired Laura to give Mrs. Fields a run for her cookie dough.

Sadly, it's not just Brooks' writer who's lost his edge, so has Brooks the actor. While I am usually a fan of the Brooks neurotic sad sack, here he seems a bland and unappealing whiner. And although "The Muse" has some deliciously delivered one-liners and two hilarious scenes, most of the movie's laughs spring from the seemingly endless cameo appearances of Hollywood types, mostly playing themselves. The dizzying cast of walk-ons includes Cybill Shepherd, Jennifer Tilly, Lorenzo Lamas, Wolfgang Puck, Rob Reiner, James Cameron and Martin Scorsese. The latter's brief appearance is one of the movie's funniest moments, with the world-renowned director delivering a rapid monologue about his idea to remake "Raging Bull."

All in all, "The Muse" is relatively amusing, if not exactly divinely inspired.