“America’s Sweethearts” tries to summon the spirit of golden era Hollywood rom-coms, but gets its spell wrong by focusing too much on characters and not enough on story. Director Joe Roth’s movie thinks of itself as a modern day “The Philadelphia Story” or “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” where gorgeous faces trade blows and swap kisses in-between moments of witty dialogue. “America’s Sweethearts'” characters ooze charm, but they get forgotten in their own puddle of pleasantries, hoping for some forgotten plot to whisk them away.
We follow Lee Phillips, a veteran Hollywood press agent played by Billy Crystal, who also co-wrote the movie. He’s exceptionally gifted in media manipulation, knowing just which insecurity or outburst can be exploited from an actor for as much positive press coverage as possible. Lee is tasked with reuniting the former La La Land lovebirds Gwen Harrison (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and Eddie Thomas (John Cusack) ahead of their movie premiere at a desert resort. Helping Lee negotiate the romantic release is Gwen’s steadfast sister and assistant Kiki (Julia Roberts).
The movie devolves into a boorish jaunt throughout the resort, where we feel like kids trapped in a hotel room with no TV on a vacation we never wanted to go on. As we watch Eddie and Gwen face off and Eddie and Kiki lock lips, we forget why they’re even here or why we’re even watching. The supposed plot is that the characters are all waiting for a film to arrive. Sadly, we feel the same way spending time with “America’s Sweethearts.”
But it’s a Hollywood satire, part of a genre whose films immediately illicit more laughs just because they’re poking fun at the industry that made them. These types of movies are like dousing leftover chicken with Sriacha sauce, where we make things spicy and saucy enough that it helps us forget the blandness lurking underneath. We’re glad “America’s Sweethearts” served us some pristine Julia Roberts giggles and bottled Billy Crystal charm, but it’s not enough to make this movie a hearty comedic entree.