"MOVERS AND SHAKERS" is the best California joke since bean sprouts, a snappy little send-up of the movie industry written by actor Charles Grodin seven years ago. He says it's a salute to Hollywood, but the industry, probably correctly, thought he was razzing it and refused to buy its own roast. Luckily, some of Grodin's cronies took pity and helped him make the movie for next to nothing -- well, $3.3 million.
Grodin plays a disillusioned screenwriter named Herb who takes a meeting with the production boss of a major studio. Walter Matthau plays the aging golden boy whose last hit was "The Eradicator III." Now he's ready to make a major contribution to his art. (In Hollywood, they make contributions, they don't make movies. They don't talk, they communicate.)
Matthau gets all caught up in a screen adaptation of a sex manual called "Love in Sex," but his aspirations outstrip his abilities. His production team of boy wonders, eccentric has-beens and one downbeat hag can't find love. But the theme-song people do manage to complete a pop movie score, with 40 female orgasms in the background.
Herb, who has prostate trouble, is asked to develop an up, positive, romantic story to go with the title. And no untoward positions, warns the studio. Of course, he hasn't enjoyed any himself in years, as his wife (Tyne Daly) has become distant due to consciousness raising. Herb tries to talk with her, but it's the '70s and there's that gender gap.
All the couples are having a time of it here. Bill Macy ("Maude's" husband) is the undisciplined director of the fictional film, with Gilda Radner as his emasculating girlfriend. He screens old movies by Gable and Bogart, looking for what women used to see in men, to inspire Herb. But Herb remains blocked.
In desperation, Herb and company visit the legendary matinee idol Fabio Longio (Steve Martin), very well preserved but with so many facelifts his lips won't drop. They are quickly disillusioned by Fabio's cringing relationship with his shrewish girlfriend Reva (Penny Marshall), after which the "Love in Sex" team becomes impotent.
"Movers and Shakers" is a little dated now that men are getting their confidence back, but it's a wry and observant movie, especially enjoyable for people who care about who's doing what to whom in oo-la-la land. It dissolves in the end, but that's how it is with romance and the movies, for better or worse. Maybe the earth didn't move, but it shook a little.