Players in Lotus Land make navigating the waters of the film industry as treacherous as swimming with sharks. Films about the studio system have shown the bad and the beautiful, presented the big picture and wielded the big knife. "Hijacking Hollywood" is the latest foray into movies about movies.

Players in Lotus Land make navigating the waters of the film industry as treacherous as swimming with sharks. Films about the studio system have shown the bad and the beautiful, presented the big picture and wielded the big knife. “Hijacking Hollywood” is the latest foray into movies about movies. A parable of excess and skewed ethics, it gently makes its points through the eyes of a recent film school grad with Oscar dreams and a Big Mac allowance. Likable film is enjoying a modest theatrical run and should be able to cobble together sufficient cassette and cable sales to beat the odds and turn a profit. In a much less radical style than that of the onscreen hero, tyro filmmaker Neil Mandt has fashioned an effective calling-card picture.

Kevin Conroy (Henry Thomas) arrives in Hollywood with entree to tyrannical, powerful producer Michael Lawrence (Mark Metcalf), a distant relative. In a bit of grandstanding, Lawrence hires him at slave wages to do the most menial jobs on his current opus, “Moby Dick 2: Ahab’s Revenge.”

Kevin’s overseer is the obsequious, petty Russell (Scott Thompson), who has him running willy-nilly across town on arcane tasks simply for the joy of lording it over someone lower in the cinematic food chain. The young man’s only seemingly important job is to collect rushes at the airport being shipped from Hawaiian locations.

Kevin learns some basic truths from his on-the-job experience. He gets another type of education from his roommate Tad (helmer Mandt), a hustler prone to hyperbole and quick to capitalize on people’s weaknesses.

When Kevin observes that a production could be held hostage if someone were to abscond with dailies, Tad quickly conceives a plan that could scuttle “Moby 2.” He’ll walk off with footage of the most expensive scene ever shot (Moby attacks Honolulu) and demand $150,000 — the cost to film Kevin’s arty script “Two Days in the Salt Mine” — for its safe return. Otherwise, Tad’s prepared to call “Sherry” at the studio and tell her that the project is in trouble.

Mandt has concocted a tight little morality tale that pays off with an ironic twist. What’s devilishly clever about the piece is the dynamic between the two young hopefuls. Thomas is perfectly cast as the temptable but incorruptible novice Kevin, and Mandt effectively embodies Tad’s baser traits. Together, they are Jekyll and Hyde.

The filmmakers largely overcome the limitations of a no-budget endeavor. Still, the story tends to ramble, unfolding awkwardly in episodes that feel hastily stitched together. Tech credits are effective without evincing style, while the tight cast is first-rate.

Hijacking Hollywood

Production

A Broken Twig release of a Curb Entertainment/Broken Twig production. Produced, directed by Neil Mandt. Executive producer, Ann Mandt. Screenplay, Neil Mandt, Jim Rossow.

Crew

Camera (CFI color), Anton Floquet; editor, Charlie Webber; music, Erik Lundmark; production design, Todd Cherniawsky; art direction, Linda Louise Sheets; costume design, Michele Michel; sound (Ultra-Stereo), Lawrence Freed; assistant director, Phillipa Rick; casting, Neil Mandt. Reviewed on videocassette, L.A., July 9, 1997. Running time: 91 MIN.

With

Kevin Conroy - Henry Thomas
Russell - Scott Thompson
Michael Lawrence - Mark Metcalf
Tad Sheen - Neil Mandt
Sarah Lawrence - Nicole Gian
Mother - Helen Duffy
Harvey - Paul Hewitt
Eddie - Art La Fleur
Ginger Roget - Shirley Brewer
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