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‘Jimmy Hollywood’ (R)

By Joe Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
April 01, 1994

A heartsick hybrid of "Taxi Driver" and "Sunset Boulevard," Barry Levinson's latest, "Jimmy Hollywood," is an angry comedy about the decay of Hollywood, America's dream factory -- and by extension, the rotting of America's dreams. There's an energetic performance by Joe Pesci, and Levinson is clear-eyed about what he wants to say. But he says it over and over and over again, until "Jimmy Hollywood" becomes a talky bore.

Pesci is at his pushiest as Jimmy Alto, a never-was actor who we meet pacing the Hollywood Walk of Fame, counting all the fallen stars. He knows them all by heart: "Maurice Chevalier, Lon Chaney, Burgess Meredith . . ." Tagging along at his heels is William (Christian Slater), his amiable but empty-headed second banana.

Aimlessly ambling around L.A., these two hapless slackers call to mind Ratso Rizzo and the Midnight Cowboy. Or Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman in "Rain Man." Movie-addled and deluded, Jimmy keeps up an endless stream of inane film-magazine chatter -- Hollywood babble-on -- about his nonexistent career. He even rents a bus shelter bench for an advertisement for "Jimmy Alto -- Actor Extraordinaire" ("Very compelling," comments William, in an instant review) and it's truly sad when he returns to find his face obliterated by graffiti.

After a woman is held up at an ATM machine -- she turns out to be Jimmy's girlfriend, Lorraine -- and Jimmy's car is broken into, he decides he's had enough. Armed with a videocamera and a pistol loaded with blanks, Jimmy and William go out and catch a crook in the act, tie him up and dump him on the steps of the Hollywood precinct, with a couple of stolen radios and a videotape of evidence.

When the tape airs on the network news, capturing the media's attention and the public imagination -- and raising the ire of criminals and the police -- Jimmy and William inadvertently become a "vigilante group" called the S.O.S., and Jimmy discovers the role of his life (as he tells us again and again) as its leader Jericho.

Pesci's driving shtick feels improvised, and that becomes a major drawback, as Levinson lets him tell us what the movie's all about one too many times. In a refreshingly self-effacing turn, Slater is convincingly dim as Jimmy's buddy. And Victoria Abril, who sparkles so naughtily in Pedro Almodovar's racy farces, brings a sassy and vulnerable touch to the part of Lorraine.

It's certainly a deeply felt movie -- a counterpart to such recent films as "Grand Canyon" and "Falling Down" -- as Levinson vents his anger, sadness and disgust at the mean-spirited, sorry state of things. After the ultra-slick "Rain Man" and "Bugsy," and the "Toys" debacle, Levinson seems to have been influenced by his recent experience with TV's "Homicide" -- "Jimmy Hollywood" has a rough-edged verite feel, pulling scenes straight off the seedy streets, and offering an unprecedentedly ugly, de-glamorized view of Hollywood.

Jimmy and William loll by a crystal blue pool, the very Hockney-esque symbol of Hollywood affluence -- then Levinson's camera dives to the bottom and shows us the dirt and grit down there. It's a great, eloquent image, but by the time he's showing us tattered American flags flapping in the smog, we've got the point, already.

By the way, stick around for the credits on this one.

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