The minute you find out Catherine O'Hara is playing an actress named Marilyn Hack, you should know where "For Your Consideration" is going.
Hack is an aging actress working on "Home for Purim," an independent film populated by has-beens, wannabes and never-weres. The director (Christopher Guest, channeling Alan Arkin) makes things up as he goes along, which may explain why his movie, about a dysfunctional Jewish family, is filmed like a Tennessee Williams play. The actress (Parker Posey) playing Hack's daughter is having a relationship with the actor (Christopher Moynihan) playing her brother. The producer (Jennifer Coolidge) is heiress to a diaper service fortune. And the guy (Harry Shearer) playing the patriarch just doesn't want to do another foot-long hot dog commercial.
But when Internet buzz starts spreading about possible award nods for the actors' performances, this once-dormant production bristles with excitement, anticipation and a lot of big-headed ego tripping.
Sounds funny, huh? Well, some of it is.
This latest improv-a-thon from writer-director Guest and his usual-suspects troupe of ad-libbers (which includes co-writer Eugene Levy, Michael McKean, Fred Willard, John Michael Higgins, Larry Miller, Bob Balaban, Jane Lynch and special guest player Ricky Gervais) is something of a letdown -- and you don't know how much it pains me to admit that. A Guest film usually marks a high point in my year.
But with Guest aiming squarely at Tinseltown (he even eschews his trusted mockumentary motif in favor of making a straightforward narrative film), "Consideration" leaves a funky, familiar aftertaste. Guest and his crew get so caught up exposing Hollywood for the weak product-churning wonderland that it is, that most of the gags come off as stale and acrid. (Willard, that flippin' genius, does toss out a brilliant line about blind hookers that's almost worth the price of admission.)
Guest also rakes most of his characters over the coals, making them walk the diving board to success, too drunk on their own egos to realize they may be taking a nose dive into shallowness. This is a first for a Guest film, since the respect he usually shows for his characters is one reason his films are so beloved. They may be losers, idiots and all-around fools, but at least he gave them some dignity.
"Consideration" does have a good idea behind it: that mediocrity is such a rampant pox on the film industry that a generally lousy movie can be heralded as a towering achievement.
With the way "Consideration" is also being overpraised by the film-critic elite, most of them demanding that O'Hara be nominated for an Oscar, the movie almost feels like a purposely inferior, metamovie experiment. And if that's the case, then Guest is a genius.
But that sounds too good to be true. Besides, Guest already gave the movie industry a proper jackslapping in his 1989 film "The Big Picture," in which Kevin Bacon plays a budding filmmaker who gets discovered, sells out and reboots his career even before his first film is made. With Guest and company too busy stabbing their toy knives into the already beaten beast of Hollywood, "For Your Consideration" never bothers to examine that fine line between stupid and clever.
Staff writer Craig D. Lindsey can be reached at 829-4760, firstname.lastname@example.org or blogs.newsobserver.com/unclecrizzle.