Actor Barry Primus tries his hand at direction with this insipid insider’s look at Hollywood. “Mistress,” in release in France ahead of U.S. unveiling, can’t seem to decide if it’s supposed to be a comedy about Hollywood small-timers trying to get an indie pic off the ground, or a somber drama in which greed and lust overwhelm art.
Pic, co-produced by Robert De Niro’s Tribeca outfit, looks to fade fast. “The Player” it’s not.
Part of the problem is the casting of Robert Wuhl in the central role of a 40 -ish washed-up director who showed early promise years before, until the suicide of an actor (a cameo for Christopher Walken) on his set ended his career. Wuhl gives a monotonous reading of the character, and it’s hard to root for such a dull and self-righteous type.
Far more effective is Martin Landau as an ex-Universal exec desperate to get an indie feature up and running. He discovers an old script (“The Darkness and the Light”) penned by the has-been helmer and, despite the fact that it deals with an artist who suicides, claims to see potential in it.
Without consulting the writer-director, Landau brings on board the son (Jace Alexander) of a famous, Academy Award-winning scripter who, as he keeps telling everyone, had the same film-school profs as Steven Spielberg.
At first, Wuhl is adamant that not one word of his script will be changed, but gradually he starts to compromise. Trouble is, every money man Landau brings on the project wants a role for his latest mistress, an old Hollywood gag that ultimately assumes center stage in Primus’ film. Two of the financiers (an urbane Robert De Niro and a flustered Danny Aiello) are actually sharing the same mistress (Sheryl Lee Ralph), while Stratland starts secretly bedding Peggy (Tuesday Knight), the blond g.f. of Eli Wallach.
Primus never makes the most of promising ideas, and the jokes (like having business conferences at L.A.’s least fashionable eateries) quickly become tiresome. Nor is the film technically interesting, with flat, rushed-looking lensing by Sven Kirsten and indulgent editing by Steven Weisberg. Galt McDermott’s sparse score is no help.
Presence of the infinitely superior Robert Altman pic this summer will render “Mistress” even less marketable than it might otherwise have been. It’ll have to rely on the names involved to make any kind of impression, and a quick segue to video is indicated.