At the critical, defining moment in the life of would-be Hollywood actor Jimmy Alto, he comes up firing blanks. The same can be said of Barry Levinson’s oddball attempt to mix offbeat comedy with social commentary and fringe-level character study. However well intentioned, the contrary elements just don’t mesh , and pic’s only possible B.O. salvation — laughter — never materializes. This look at a showbiz loser will itself be a commercial castoff.
Basically a three-character piece set almost entirely within a few blocks either side of Hollywood Boulevard, production represents a case of the scale and cost of a project way out of proportion to its story and potential appeal. As a low-budget indie marketed cleverly, this story of terminal down-and-outers might have made some sense. As a $ 20 million studio undertaking without major stars, it never stood a chance.
As obsessed with Hollywood stardom as any youngster stepping off the bus in the 1930s, Jimmy (Joe Pesci) is no closer to making it now than he was seven years ago when he arrived in L.A. from Jersey. Lucky enough to have a sexy g.f., Lorraine (Spanish star Victoria Abril), who aspires to be hairdresser to the stars, Jimmy spends his time hanging out in dingy Hollywood coffee shops, reading the trades and sitting in front of the self-promotional billboard he’s bought for a bus stop bench on Sunset in Bel-Air, always in the company of dimwit grunge puppy William (Christian Slater).
Characters and the pic are going nowhere fast when Jimmy’s car radio is stolen. He and William, having nothing better to do, take to the bushes to videotape the culprit the next time, then dump the criminal, along with the incriminating tape, at the doorstep of the police station.
Jimmy then makes a tape of himself as Jericho, leader of S.O.S. (Save Our Streets), a self-appointed “watchdog of Hollywood” vigilante group. Local TV stations take notice, and Jimmy and William don masks and catch a number of bad guys, always taping them and issuing new proclamations.
In one of life’s ironies, the authorities aren’t terribly concerned with the vermin Jimmy turns in, but have dozens of cops assigned to track down Jericho.
What ultimately seems to have been Levinson’s overriding motivation in writing the piece — a love of Hollywood as a place, sorrow over what has become of it and empathy for those who retain, however naively, an innocence in their dreams — is rather sweet and sympathetic.
But as the focus of attention, Jimmy is sadly and obnoxiously self-centered and small-minded; society’s deterioration bothers him only to the extent that it soils his dream world. As a view of vigilantism and social activism, film is neither rabble-rousing nor analytical and insightful. As comedy, the sound of silence where laughs were meant to be weighs heavily throughout.
In a blond hairpiece almost as awful as his getup in “JFK,” Pesci is more antic than engaging, although his former aluminum-siding salesman, and spiritual cousin to Levinson’s characters in “Diner” and “Tin Men,” remains entirely believable as an actor who’s never even so much as appeared in a commercial.
Slater’s thick-headed second-banana role reps the farthest thing from a glamorous star turn as one could imagine, and Abril, in her American film debut, is spirited, even if her character seems rather too blindly supportive of her no-account b.f.
Although Peter Sova’s lensing aims to evoke urban blight, production values are way beyond what was necessary for the material. In an unconvincing tag-on, Harrison Ford pops up under the end credits as the unlikely star of a Jimmy Alto biopic.