The central motif in "Movers and Shakers" is the dinosaur; indeed the idea is repeated with the cinematic equivalent of a sledgehammer, from the opening titles to the monstrous replica that figures in the plot. Since it is a movie about the movie industry, you would not be wrong in assuming that this is a not very subtle metaphor about the people and intelligence you find in Hollywood.
Mind you, this is a frequently funny movie. The movie business is perhaps no more populated with toadies, incompetents and moral cripples than other businesses, but the nature of the product makes it especially ripe for satire.
Walter Matthau, perfectly cast as Joe Mulholland, the high-level "chief of production" in a major studio, gives a deathbed promise to his best friend to make a movie for which he has only a title, "Love in Sex." Not being Woody Allen, neither he nor his staff of writers, producers and directors can come up with an idea for the plot other than that it should be a "tribute to romantic love" with "no positions" (of the sexual variety).
Meanwhile, the reluctant screen writer (coproducer, writer and actor Charles Grodin) is having marital troubles, having not made contact with his wife (Tyne Daly), either emotionally or physically, for several months. The result of such abstinence is, his doctor tells him, a "boggy" prostate -- and his tormented knowledge that he is not the right person to be writing "Love in Sex." Aha, you say, that's it! There's the movie! But, of course, it takes an hour and half for this well-paid scribe to put it together.
In the interim millions of dollars are spent. The team hires a crazed director (Bill Macy) who makes them watch old movies and then visit an aging Valentino-type movie star (Steve Martin in a screamingly funny cameo). That the director's own personal relationships, notably that with his wacky girlfriend (Gilda Radner), are atrocious is of course not considered by the studio executives when they hire him to direct their movie about love.
So the points are obvious: Expensive decisions are made on whims, ignorance reigns and stupidity is an essential qualification to succeed in Hollywood. But Grodin also wants us to believe that there is a moral element to this too, that Mulholland represents the "good" guys because at least he was loyal to his dying friend (Vincent Gardenia). But we're not exactly talking about paragons here; the best that can be said for these two is that they "follow a dream," even if that dream is misguided and worthless. Making a picture called "Love in Sex" just because the title seems commercial is not exactly Nobel Peace Prize material, and so the dilemma of artistic vision versus studio banality is as "boggy" as Grodin's prostate.
According to the publicity material, Grodin spent seven years trying to get this movie made, rebuffed by five studio heads who didn't want to pay to spoof themselves. Ultimately the stars, producer, director and crew agreed to work for minimum salaries, bringing the cost of the film down to just over $3 million. For all this sacrifice, you'd think they were making a movie of great daring and challenge. Instead, it is a satire that bites with gums instead of teeth.
There is a kind of quaintness about the movie that is appealing, a '50s look and plot progression that is comfortable, like an old bathrobe -- and as trendy as, well, a dinosaur. The director is William Asher, whose credits include all the Frankie Avalon/Annette Funicello films as well as the television series "Bewitched," which may explain such techniques as the voice-over narration and a theme song that makes you think of Doris Day. "Movers and Shakers" is one of those pleasant movies that will make you forget your problems -- as long as those problems are no more serious than deciding what to eat for dinner.
Movers and Shakers, at the K-B Paris and the Circle West End, is rated PG.