aka Nick Decker ….. Tony Markes
Adam Rifkin ….. Adam Rifkin
Angie Everhart ….. Angie Everhart
David Lake ….. David Andriole
With: Nicolas Cage, Jeff Goldblum, John Travolta, David Hasselhoff, Ron Shelton, Bobbi Thompson, Jane Jenkins, Laurence Fishburne, Will Smith, Mike Leigh, Cuba Gooding, Cameron Crowe.
Hollywood turns the camera on itself in the mockumentary “Welcome to Hollywood.” The simple premise is that real-life filmmaker Adam Rifkin goes on the hunt for a conspicuously talented actor with the express intent of following his career from unknown to superstar. Though pic is dotted with bitingly funny observations and an often chilling sense of verite, the conceit wears thin in feature format and the tone turns overly dark and cynical. Niche item could score some decent specialized theatrical returns to set up strong response in ancillaries.
Rifkin reveals his pursuit to the audience and to casting agent Jane Jenkins, who quickly arranges a series of auditions. But the chosen thesp (David Andriole) has to bow out because he has landed a major studio role and the filmmaker will no allow another crew on the set.
The mantle then falls on runner-up Anton Markwell (Tony Markes), a performer with considerably more ambition than experience. Rifkin sets him up with agents and a manager and decides he needs a more cinematic name. Anton is rechristened Nick Decker, but, unfortunately, his head shots come back from the printers labeled “Dick Necker.”
It soon becomes evident that fostering Anton or Nick or Dick’s stardom is akin to squeezing toothpaste back into the tube. A guest shot on “Baywatch” is undone when the actor steps on a stingray, and efforts to get him seen at L.A. watering holes and at the Sundance and Cannes festivals prove successful in every way save actual film roles.
Steven Seagal notwithstanding, “Welcome to Hollywood’s” underlying message is that audiences, not the studios, create stars. That notion reveals itself early in the proceedings; much of pic’s fun derives from soaking in the atmosphere and observing the behind-the-scenes machinations of getting movies made and furthering careers. But once Nick’s fortunes begin to spiral downward (and desperation becomes a major player), the film’s direction becomes obvious as its mirthful quality fizzles.
Co-directors Rifkin and Markes bring skill and knowledge to the subject that elevate the piece above a one-joke exercise. They put cinema verite techniques to effective use, while wisely avoiding winks to the audience.
Rifkin is particularly appealing as a character presumably modeled to some degree on himself, while Markes adroitly limns his fledgling star without reducing him to a mere schnook. The film’s best running gang involves the actor initially chosen for the docu, whose path continues to cross that of the less fortunate Decker. “Welcome to Hollywood” could have used more of that eerie, vaguely paranoid quality to enrich its story and heighten the weird ambience of a town and an industry built on illusion.