Like wine vintages, some years at film festivals are better than others. This year's Sundance Film Festival was by general consensus a lackluster one.
Some 120 features screened during the 10-day festival, which concluded on Saturday (for a complete list of winners, click here). Of these, many highly anticipated commercial entries were washouts, while smaller films that scored with audiences and critics mostly have limited commercial prospects.
Among the biggest disappointments were three films with show business settings and starring big names: What Just Happened?, The Great Buck Howard and The Deal. All three are still seeking distributors.
What Just Happened?, directed by Barry Levinson (Sleepers), stars Robert De Niro as a Hollywood producer who spends a frantic week shuttling between ex-wives, stroking spoiled stars (Bruce Willis, having a hoot playing a buffoonish version of himself, and Sean Penn), and soothing worried studio execs (Catherine Keener). While it does boast plenty of zippy one-liners, this Hollywood satire has less bite than a routine episode of HBO's Entourage.
Hanks a LotThough pleasant enough, The Great Buck Howard is a show-biz comedy that goes gooily soft just when it could use some snap. Tom Hanks served as producer of the movie, which stars his son, Colin Hanks, as a law-school dropout-turned-assistant to a has-been performer (John Malkovich) on the comeback trail. (In a felicitous bit of casting, the elder Hanks shows up briefly as the younger Hanks's dad.)
One-time romantic comedy queen Meg Ryan tries for a comeback of her own in The Deal, a Hollywood spoof in which she costars with William H. Macy (who cowrote the film). She plays a studio executive and he a producer on a big-budget action picture. Deal starts off amusingly but fritters away an audience's goodwill with an overload of circuitous plotting.
Some Shining ExamplesIt wasn't all downer news at Sundance. Two star-studded movies that did shine and are due in theaters soon:
In Bruges, opening Feb. 8, stars Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson as Irish hit men cooling their heels in Belgium after a killing gone wrong.
Smart People, due April 11, is a winning romantic comedy with Dennis Quaid playing a widowed college prof who, after taking up with a doctor (Sarah Jessica Parker), finds himself badly in need of a course on remedial dating. Juno's Ellen Parker and Sideways's Thomas Haden Church are hilarious in supporting roles.