Review: ‘Hollywood North’

An intriguing set-up and a few clever moves don't compensate for ill-conceived execution of this would-be spoof of the movie business, Canadian-style. Presence of Alan Bates, Matthew Modine and Deborah Kara Unger may help ancillary prospects, but Toronto-shot "Hollywood North" is too regional to appeal to offshore moviegoers.

An intriguing set-up and a few clever moves don’t compensate for ill-conceived execution of this would-be spoof of the movie business, Canadian-style. Presence of internationals Alan Bates, Matthew Modine and Deborah Kara Unger may help ancillary prospects, but Toronto-shot “Hollywood North” is too regional to appeal to offshore moviegoers and too vaguely drawn to attract many Canucks.

Generic title is a tip-off to pic’s bland nature, but it makes sense when you know Tony Johnston’s script dates back to the tax write-off period of the early 1980s, when the term was novel.

Tale begins in 1979, with investors giving a shot to neophyte producer Bobby Myers (Modine), who has optioned the rights to “Lantern Moon,” a high-toned novel about Cuban literacy by Lindsay Marshall (Clare Coulter), a Margaret Atwood/Alice Munro type who knows nothing about how movies are made.

Sure, the money people are iffy on a pro-socialist saga to begin with, but things really go south when washed-up Yank William Baytes (Bates, sporting an uneasy accent) is hired to play the cranky American ambassador. Turns out the guy’s a pistol-waving, right-wing psychotic, and he succeeds in having the rebel venue changed to a vaguely defined Venezuela. And the heady teacher suddenly turns into a ditzy sexpot played by Jennifer Tilly.

Storytelling device, initially promising, has droll narration supplied by Sandy Ryan (Unger), hired to shoot a making-of but actually mounting an expose while using Bobby’s resources to get her own artfilm made.

Now called “Last Flight From Bogota,” pic’s has-been director Henry Neville (played with delightful insouciance by John Neville) is consistently the best thing in “Hollywood North.” There’s also good work from Joe Cobden as Howard Atkins, a fledgling co-producer whose head gets turned by the glam side of the biz. Howard’s desperate, satin-jacketed antics bring a “Boogie Nights”-lite edge to the proceedings.

Modine, on the other hand, turns in one of his least memorable perfs, although seemingly through little fault of his own. His protag is a nebbishy idealist not far removed from the unconfident thesp he nailed so perfectly in “The Real Blonde,” but the script never delineates why Bobby wanted to make the fictional pic in first place.

First-time helmer O’Brian — himself a respected producer — plays a last-minute tryst between Bobby and Sandy, whose own goals remain similarly ill-defined, not as a product of on-set nuttiness but as a spoof of big Tracy-Hepburn moments. Result is a pile-up of tones and attitudes that will leave most viewers frustrated and unengaged.

If pic had been played straight, a la “Living in Oblivion,” with an accumulation of absurdities overtaking everyone’s best intentions, things would have been funnier and more instructive. But mood of high farce, complete with a quacking score to underline the silliness, proves impossible to sustain.

Cameos from Canucks with solid cross-border careers, such as Alan Thicke and Saul Rubinek, only add smugness to the empty proceedings. Tech credits are adequate.

Hollywood North



A Now Entertainment Group/Winchester Entertainment presentation of a Trimuse Entertainment/John Gillespie production (Toronto), in association with Independent Pictures. Produced by John Gillespie. Executive producers, Aniz Manji, Mark Thomas, Jeffrey Kirsh. Co-producer, Tony Johnston. Directed by Peter O'Brian. Screenplay, Tony Johnston.


Camera (color/B&W), Barry Stone; editor, Lisa Grootenboer; music, Terence Gowan, Blair Packham; production designer, Rob Gray; art director, Iain Reynolds; set decorator, Christina Kuhnigk; sound, David K. Grant; special effects, Brock Jolliffe; associate producer, Paul Weber; assistant director, Mike Bowman; casting, Jenny Lewis. Reviewed on videocassette, Vancouver, Aug. 27, 2003. (In Toronto--Perspective Canada, Vancouver film festivals.) Running time: 87 MIN.


Matthew Modine, Alan Bates, Deborah Kara Unger, John Neville, Jennifer Tilly, Joe Cobden, Kim Coates, Fabrizio Filippo, Clare Coulter, Lindy Booth, Peter Oldring, Alan Thicke, Saul Rubinek.

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