As the vanity film reenactment of a vanity legit venture, "Frankie and Johnny Are Married" sets the bar for unnecessary self-absorption in the mistaken cause of Art. Alas, that doesn't make actually watching it very interesting. TV producer ("Chicago Hope") and tube and occasional bigscreen director Michael Pressman plays himself here -- as do his actress spouse, Lisa Chess, and "Hope" cast member Alan Rosenberg.

As the vanity film reenactment of a vanity legit venture, “Frankie and Johnny Are Married” sets the bar for unnecessary self-absorption in the mistaken cause of Art. Alas, that doesn’t make actually watching it very interesting. TV producer (“Chicago Hope”) and tube and occasional bigscreen director Michael Pressman plays himself here — as do his actress spouse, Lisa Chess, and “Hope” cast member Alan Rosenberg. Saga of their attempts to mount an Equity-waiver production of Terrence McNally’s “Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune” drastically overestimates novelty of mishaps involved. Beyond the participants’ friends and co-workers, it’s hard to imagine an audience for this professionally packaged exercise in navel gazing.

At the start, he’s frazzled by TV duties and she’s frustrated in her stalled career (which can’t have been helped by a killing resemblance to Helen Hunt). They decide to mount the play as something meaningful they can do together. But production turns into a monetary sinkhole and pal Rosenberg (freely painting himself as obnoxious, uncooperative and childish) proves egomaniacal.

When Rosenberg finally walks, Pressman himself takes the male lead — a decision that seems daft to everyone (including the viewer), though endtitle assures us the couple won “rave reviews.”

Budgetary travails and temperamental thesps are pretty business-as-usual on the boards. Assuming otherwise, very loosely fact-based script never rises above mild humor. During rehearsal and final opening-night segs, we’re meant to share in the magic of creation.

But frankly this “Frankie & Johnny” does not look like anything special, particularly since the play has already been performed by every rep and community theater in the western world. (Not to mention the Al Pacino-Michele Pfeiffer film version, which is oft-mentioned here.)

Decently handled in tech departments if a bit drab-looking, pic isn’t an embarrassment so much as it is simply pointless — except to the Pressmans, who now have spent (presumably) their own money on a second vanity project few will want to see.

David E. Kelley, Mandy Patinkin, Kathy Baker and CBS prez Leslie Moonves are among those playing themselves in cameos.

Frankie And Johnny Are Married

Production

A Ridea Prods. presentation. Produced by Alice West. Co-producer, Daniel Irom. Directed, written by Michael Pressman.

Crew

Camera (color, digital DV-to-35mm), Jacek Laskus; editor, Jeff Freeman; production designer, Lauren Hersholt-Nole; costume designer, Van Ramsey; sound designer (Dolby Digital), Rob Nokes; first assistant director, Daniel Irom; casting, Jeffery Passero. Reviewed at Montreal World Film Festival (Cinema of the Americas), Sept. 4, 2003. Running time: 98 MIN.

With

Lisa Chess, Michael Pressman, Alan Rosenberg, Stephen Tobolowsky, Jillian Armenante, Morgan Nagler, Ann Hearn, Maury Sterling, Linda Klein.

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