YOU REMEMBER the muses: those nine mythic daughters of Zeus, whose breathy suggestions have inspired artists for all eternity.
Well, in Albert Brooks's hilarious "The Muse," they appear to have migrated to Hollywood. One of them has, anyway. She's beautiful, sexy and can talk "character arc" or "denouement" with the best of them.
Her extremely satisfied clients include James Cameron, Rob Reiner and Martin Scorsese. She doesn't come cheap, this one. But she guarantees success to anyone smart enough to buy her poolside services. So far, Sharon Stone has a perfect track record.
That's right, Sharon Stone. Sure, her fictional name in this comedy is Sarah. But nobody's fooling nobody. That's Stone playing herself -- or the idea of herself. And when professional screenwriter Steven Phillips (Brooks) learns his career is on the ropes, it's just a matter of time before he, too, finds himself knocking on Sarah's door.
Steven gets the bad word from Josh (Mark Feuerstein), a slimy studio executive, who drops the scriptwriter's contract because he has lost his "edge."
For Steven, this pronouncement is tantamount to contracting bubonic plague. Word will get around of this contagion. He has to act fast. Desperate for help, he appeals to his successful scriptwriter-friend, Jack (Jeff Bridges), who reluctantly lets him in on the Sarah thing.
Steven persuades Jack to get him an audience with Hollywood's most exclusive muse. Bearing an expensive Tiffany's gift, as directed by Jack, Steven meets the Muse Herself.
When she agrees to take him on, Steven's joy soon turns into misery. As Sarah coolly informs him, she doesn't actually do any work. She simply inspires. Which is going to cost.
Her living expenses include room and board at the Four Seasons, a chauffeur and someone who'll cater to her every whim 24 hours a day -- whether she needs a Waldorf Salad or bobby pins. Hey, it worked for "Titanic."
This takes some explaining at Steven's home. His wife Laura (Andie MacDowell) is understandably skeptical. But eventually she figures, this is Steven's career. Gotta go with the program.
Things get even more interesting when -- in a cost-cutting measure -- Steven brings her home. Not only does Sarah make even more demands than before, she seems to be having more inspirational effect on Laura than Steven.
As always, Brooks's marvelously forlorn perspective -- that the world may think it's normal but is in fact completely crazy -- sparks comedy at every turn.
Whether he's listening aghast to Josh's moronic platitudes or jumping through Sarah's never-ending hoops or simply trying to understand the looking-glass reality of Tinseltown, he's a font of pithy complaint -- all of it funny.
When he meets with Josh, for instance, Steven learns at the gates that he has been granted a "walk-on" pass to the studio, meaning he has to park miles away and hump his way to Josh's office. The best pass, the guard tells him, is a "drive-on," which grants parking access.
What's the worst pass you can get, Steven wonders aloud, a crawl-on?
As the sweating, miserable Steven walks from isolated building to building, searching for Josh's office, a sight-seeing bus passes.
"On your left," crackles the tour guide, "is obviously a man who did not get a drive-on."
The list of great moments is virtually endless: Steven's observation that scriptwriters are like eunuchs, except that eunuchs get to watch and scriptwriters aren't even invited to the set. Or the "Who's on First?"-style routine when Steven tries to explain his profession to a Beverly Hills partygoer for whom English is definitely a second language. It's tempting to reel them off, but that would be like giving you a "drive-on." This movie is definitely a pleasure to walk through yourself, every amusing step of the way.
THE MUSE (PG-13, 97 minutes) -- Contains mild sexual situations and language, and momentary nudity. Area theaters.