Picks and Pans Review: I'll Do Anything

updated 02/07/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/07/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

Nick Nolte, Tracey Ullman, Whittni Wright, Joely Richardson, Albert Brooks, Julie Kavner

Watching the stiff, sluggish Nolte try to do light comedy in this Hollywood satire evokes memories of hippo ballerinas in Fantasia. But Nolte is hardly the only one responsible for broadening and flattening this story of a hapless actor who reluctantly takes custody of his young daughter. Ultimately the movie starts to resemble Mrs. Doubtfire Meets the Player.

Even that veteran schmaltzmeister, writer-director James L. Brooks, can't wring much charm out of the story, allowing everyone to overact egregiously. He also recycles the standard Hollywood clichés, from car phones to power dinners, without scoring any satirical points.

Good as he is at being cynical and chagrined, Nolte, in his attempt here to be ironic, gapes and grimaces by turns, unaided by a script that saddles him with soliloquies in which he debates himself: "Why do I keep talking to myself like this?"

Albert Brooks is a caricature of a crass film executive, obsessed with box office results and given to evaluating actresses in the crudest terms. Ull-man is loud and abrasive as Nolte's Southerner ex-wife, overdraw ling as she does what sounds like an imitation of Delta Burke. Little Wright is altogether too convincing as an insufferable, caterwauling brat. Brooks presents her as a kind of refugee from the Village of the Damned, more often repulsive than cute, so that when she and Nolte finally cozy into father-daughter bliss, it seems bizarre rather than heartwarming.

And the relationship between Albert Brooks (no relation to James) and Kavner, an amorous spinster who is Albert's audience research expert, is staged transparently as a battle of neuroses—it's like Richard Lewis dating himself.

Richardson, a script reader with a crush on Nolte, sustains some appeal despite her vaguely hysterical style.

Small favors dept.: James Brooks originally filmed this movie as a musical, then pulled the songs after adverse audience reaction in previews. This could have been a lot worse with Nolte trying to sing. (PG-13)

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