Hollywood gets gently goosed in “The Disappearance of Kevin Johnson,” an always amusing, occasionally very funny mockumentary in which a Brit TV crew tries to dredge up the truth about an English movie producer who’s gone AWOL. Stuffed with cameos and insider jokes, and shot in Nick Broomfield-like door-stepping style, this is a ready-made fest item that should also notch up small-screen sales, especially outside the U.S., where its ironic view of L.A.-ites will play into existing prejudices.
Though it never has the feel of being overextended, ultimately pic is a slim confection, and lacks the real bite that would have elevated it from an enjoyable TV item. Writer-director Francis Megahy, a longtime British TV hand, finished the script in fall 1994 and shot the picture over five weeks in the summer of 1995. Film finally got a token theatrical release in London in late July.
With Megahy himself playing the offscreen interviewer and providing v.o. narration, pic starts with various celebs reminiscing about “Kevin Johnson” before we see his car hauled out of San Pedro harbor. At first, the (unseen) crew from “West of England Television” gets the runaround, as nobody expresses much surprise at Johnson’s disappearance. As interviews proceed from the real estate agent (Bridget Baiss) who sold him his house, through his rich girlfriend (Keely Sims), to a smooth Hollywood agent (Michael Brandon), a picture of Johnson builds up in which he seems to have told everyone a different yarn about his background.
Doggedly pursuing their quest, the TV crew track down a slick but edgy studio exec (Rick Peters) at a car wash, Johnson’s stud-like “housekeeper” (John Hillard) and a scared waitress (Heather Stephens) who was having an affair with him. Everyone lies; some hint at dark forces at work. And — in the pic’s funniest running joke — nobody can understand why, having had his film project greenlighted, Johnson should choose to vanish.
Finally, the layers of the onion start to peel off and the fearless TV crew start influencing events as they bounce back their own discoveries on earlier interviewees. After they’ve groped their way toward a semblance of the seedy truth, a few heads roll, some players skip town, and, hey, life goes on.
The interviews (all done in single takes) go the range, from caught-on-the-hoof to posed-before-camera. Though some are more actorly than others, the portfolio of movie types (from wannabes to studio heads) and assorted L.A. riffraff is generally on the button, without too much obvious mugging. Biggest delight is the dialogue which, though completely scripted by Megahy, uncannily catches the town’s vocabulary and speech rhythms without slipping into obvious parody.
In a cast with few weak links, Brandon stands out as a cheery, Teflon-skinned agent, in a performance that anchors the movie; Kari Wuhrer turns in a six-minute poolside tour de force as a hot-bodied upmarket hooker; Richard Beymer is very funny as a shake ‘n’ bake scriptwriter; Peters ditto as a Griffin Mill-like studio exec, Richard Neil as his boss, and Michael Laskin as a (very recognizable) thuggish producer.
Tech credits are fine, with John Coda’s music discreetly faking up the drama as the trail gets warm in the second half.