Noted L.A. legit director Jeff Seymour makes his feature debut with a project no doubt close to his heart — a dark comedyset in the world of L.A. theater. Pic is neither dark nor funny enough to make the most of its premise, but its sturdy craftsmanship insures vid and cable exposure.
Seymour doesn’t stretch himself in the lead role of Steve Maletti, an L.A. stage director whose small theater is forever on the verge of bankruptcy. (Last summer, Seymour cited the economy as a chief reason for closing his North Hollywood Gnu Theatre after eight years.)
But the director/screenwriter strikes the right balance of egotism and idealism in his portrait of the artist as a deficit spender.
Pic begins on a clever note, with Ed Begley Jr. and Joe Spano typecast as TV stars who appear at Maletti’s theater between more profitable gigs.
Unfortunately, the TV stars turn in their notices when they land roles in a movie shooting in Africa. Even more unfortunately, the lack of marquee allure means Maletti has to close his production prematurely. Desperate to raise money to save his struggling theater, he obtains the L.A. rights to a still-popular Broadway hit.
“Rave Review” (known as “Acting on Impulse” during filming) reaches its seriocomic high point when Maletti tries to scare a notoriously harsh critic (Bruce Kirby) out of writing a bad review and inadvertently causes the old man to have a fatal heart attack.
When Maletti ascertains that the man really has died — just minutes after writing a highly favorable review — the director scrambles to make sure no one learns of the untimely demise before the review appears in the L.A. Times.
Seymour has a difficult time establishing and sustaining a consistent tone. Some scenes, such as the critic’s death, are mildly amusing, though not quite as sardonic as they might be. Later, as Maletti is harassed by a suspicious cop, pic turns dead serious.
Film’s final third has a rushed, slapdash quality, suggesting some transitional scenes were left on the cutting-room floor, or never lensed in the first place.
On the plus side, “Rave Review” has some amusingly in-joke observations about small-budget theater in L.A., Hollywood’s recruitment of promising talent, overly emotional actors and the uneasy relationship between critics and artists.
Pic turns downright nasty, and perilously close to homophobic, in its depiction of an effeminate theater critic (Robert Costanzo) who comes on to Maletti.
For the most part, however, humor is inoffensive. Perhaps a little too inoffensive. One can only dream of what wonders Paul Bartel could have worked with this plot.
Supporting performances are generally good, with Leo Rossi a hilarious standout as an actor who can’t help crying in every role. Tech values are OK.