The notion of 15 minutes of fame gets another workout in "EDtv," a reasonably amusing look at a young man whose life becomes a popular TV show. The big question mark hanging over the project is whether prospective viewers will pass this one over due to its perceived similarity to "The Truman Show," and the answer is that a good many probably will.

The notion of 15 minutes of fame gets another workout in “EDtv,” a reasonably amusing look at a young man whose life becomes a popular TV show. The big question mark hanging over the project is whether prospective viewers will pass this one over due to its perceived similarity to “The Truman Show,” and the answer is that a good many probably will. Ron Howard’s film is scruffy, jokey and unassuming, where Peter Weir’s was pristine, bold and thematically ambitious; the main dramatic difference is that the hero here is a full, witting accomplice to the television crew that documents his every move. But there are only so many things to be said about the effect of having cameras pointed at you 24 hours a day, and they are fairly obvious ones at that, so a certain staleness hangs over the proceedings despite the best efforts of the cast and the fun-minded creative team. Based on its audience-pleasing nature, pic has good, if not exceptional, commercial prospects with youngish general audiences.

Tellingly, pic’s press kit goes out of its way to stress how different the film’s TV show is from PBS’ 25-year-old “An American Family” and that it’s “totally dissimilar” to MTV’s current “Real World,” but makes no mention of last year’s Jim Carrey hit. “EDtv” is entertaining in its own right, but has the misfortune of following a similar film that was far more original and accomplished. In different ways, they both bring their protags to the point of desperately asking the same question: How do I get off this show? (Next treatment of the topic will have to feature a character who never wants the cameras to be turned off.)

With a softly cynical tone, 15-minute setup shows how San Fran-based cable docu channel True TV responds to a ratings plunge by initiating its round-the-clock verite program. After some auditions, program director Cynthia Topping (Ellen DeGeneres) settles on amiable, good-looking dufus Ed Pekurny (Matthew McConaughey), a 31-year-old video-store clerk who has yet to get a life. His boisterous older brother, Ray (Woody Harrelson), would sorely like to have been the star himself, the better to promote his business schemes, but Ray comes up the big loser not only by missing out on the leading role but by the defection of his bashful, unlucky-at-love girlfriend, Shari (Jenna Elfman), into his brother’s arms.

Indeed, after a slow start, the show gets its first melodramatic kick out of the televised beginning of the new romance. Pic frequently cuts away to representative viewers to illustrate the grip Ed’s relatively innocuous life is exercising on people around the nation, just as numerous well-known personalities (Jay Leno, George Plimpton, Arianna Huffington, RuPaul, Harry Shearer, Michael Moore, etc.) are seen joking or pontificating about the impact and meaning of the Ed phenomenon.

Fate smiles further on the enterprise when the closet doors of Ed’s seemingly unexceptional family swing open to reveal some unexpected skeletons. The self-serving account of Ed’s image-conscious mother, Jeanette (Sally Kirkland), of why she and Ed’s father broke up years ago is shattered when long-lost Dad (Dennis Hopper) suddenly turns up now that his son is famous. Also trying to cash in is the spurned Ray, who writes a spiteful quickie tome called “My Brother Pissed on Me.”

The one person decidedly not into riding the True TV wave as far as she can is Shari, who never gets with the program and bails on Ed when an opinion poll states that 71% of the public thinks she’s a drag and not good enough for their folk hero. Thrilled to have her off the show, management engineers a romance for Ed with British sex bomb Jill (Elizabeth Hurley); their big “date,” during which Jill is clearly meant to knock Ed’s socks off, becomes a media event bigger than the Super Bowl, and also reps one of the film’s rambunctious highlights.

Unfortunately for the picture, the public is right: The Shari character, as played with a listless cutesiness by Elfman, actually is a drag, and she returns to clog up the final reels and make Ed come to the predictable conclusion that he’s got to get out of the fame business. Sure, he’s just a regular guy and she’s a regular gal, but it’s impossible to imagine what he sees in this entirely undistinguished woman, or to figure why he wouldn’t take the opportunity of freedom and celebrity to expand his horizons.

Based on an obscure 1994 French-Canadian picture, “Louis XIX: King of the Airwaves,” script by frequent Ron Howard collaborators Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel cooks up some tasty scenes and savory retorts, particularly for Martin Landau. Latter plays Ed’s hilariously blunt but lovable stepfather, a man who is confined to a motorized wheelchair and has a remark for every occasion. DeGeneres and Rob Reiner, as the top broadcast honcho, deliver any number of wisecracks at the expense of the TV medium, and Harrelson and Kirkland have their moments as well.

But it’s McConaughey’s picture to carry, and he manages it well. Despite his leading-man status, he’s invariably been seen to best advantage in screw-loose comic roles (“Dazed and Confused,” “Larger Than Life”), and he contributes a natural zaniness that makes Ed an easy-to-take companion on the bigscreen, and a plausible one for the small one.

Howard and nimble lenser John Schwartzman cover most of the action in 35mm, some of it simultaneous to the show as it’s being seen on TV monitors, resulting in a no-doubt-intended hectic, grab-bag look. Pic makes any number of breezy points about the nature of contempo celebrity, the central one having to do with how just becoming famous, for whatever reason, now seems to constitute sufficient cause for public distinction.


  • Production: A Universal release of a Universal and Imagine Entertainment presentation. Produced by Brian Grazer, Ron Howard. Executive producers, Todd Hallowell, Michel Roy, Richard Sadler. Directed by Ron Howard. Screenplay, Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandel, based on the motion picture "Louis XIX: Roi des ondes," written by Emile Gaudreault, Sylvie Bouchard, directed by Michel Poulette.
  • Crew: Camera (Deluxe color), John Schwartzman; editors, Mike Hill, Dan Hanley; music, Randy Edelman; music supervisor, Bonnie Greenberg; production designer, Michael Coernblith; art director, Dan Webster; set designers, Kevin Cross, Al Hobbs, Lauren Polizzi; set decorator, Merideth Boswell; costume designer, Rita Ryack; sound (DTS/SDDS/Dolby digital), David MacMillan; special visual effects, Digital Domain; associate producers, Aldric La'auli Porter, Louisa Velis; assistant director, Porter; second unit director, Todd Hallowell; second unit camera, David Dunlop, C. Mitchell Amundsen; casting, Jane Jenkins, Janet Hirshenson. Reviewed at the Beverly Connection, L.A., March 8, 1999. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 122 MIN.
  • With: Ed Pekurny - Matthew McConaughey Shari - Jenna Elfman Ray Pekurny - Woody Harrelson Jeanette - Sally Kirkland Al - Martin Landau Cynthia Topping - Ellen DeGeneres Whitaker - Rob Reiner Hank - Dennis Hopper Jill - Elizabeth Hurley John - Adam Goldberg Marcia - Viveka Davis Ken - Clint Howard
  • Music By: