'What Just Happened" is a rarity in the Hollywood satire genre: it's a movie told completely from the producer's perspective. But judging by the overwhelming dullness of this picture, I'm beginning to understand why movies like "Happened" haven't, well, happened in the past.
"Happened" is based on "What Just Happened?" (notice the difference in punctuation), producer Art Linson's tell-all on his nutty, migraine-inducing experiences getting movies like "Fight Club" and "Great Expectations" made. Unfortunately, this version of "Happened" doesn't tell of those experiences. This "Happened" is highly fictionalized -- and, therefore, not that interesting. Robert De Niro steps into the Linson role as Ben, a movie producer who has mastered the Zen-like art of staying grounded even when no one else is.
He's desperately trying to get one movie -- starring a gun-toting Sean Penn -- into theaters. However, the studio head (Catherine Keener, once again in b-word mode) wants the ending changed, considering that a test screening didn't care much for its dog-murdering climax. But the movie's recovering-addict director (Michael Wincott, channeling Keith Richards) is not budging, since he feels a dog getting its brain splattered all over the screen makes the movie.
Meanwhile, Ben has to be on the set of another film and deal with its paunchy, tantrum-throwing star (Bruce Willis, playing a snittier version of Alec Baldwin, who actually went through this while making "The Edge") and his refusal to shave off his beard. "You're the producer," Willis constantly barks at Ben, as though it's the ultimate insult.
As you've probably guessed, his personal life is equally dysfunctional. He tries to stay close to his estranged wife (Robin Wright Penn) and teenage daughter (Kristen Stewart). But every time his cell phone rings, he keeps getting sucked back into business as usual.
Linson, who wrote the script, obviously makes De Niro's character the only sane man in a land of selfish yet madly powerful nutjobs. This self-congratulatory aspect would be much easier to take if the movie wasn't so unappealingly bland. Barry Levinson directs "Happened" in his signature, lazily paced fashion, creating a Hollywood that looks less like the hustling-and-bustling industry town reminiscent of "Entourage" and more like a town full of dullards with way too much money and control. While the cast, especially Penn and Willis, wants to show it's in on the joke, not much happens in "Happened" to elicit giggles. As far as moviemaking skewerings go, this is the anti-"Tropic Thunder."
Then again, maybe this was Linson's intention: to show that Hollywood isn't that different from where you live and work. According to Linson, people who make movies shouldn't be envied so much as pitied (starting with Linson, who went through all of this). That may be true, but it doesn't make up for the fact that "What Just Happened" is one tedious trip through Hollywood babble-on.