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Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rebecca Pidgeon, Alec Baldwin, Sarah Jessica Parker, William H. Macy, David Paymer, Julia Stiles

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Having been in a production of "Glengarry Glen Ross," I can pick out David Mamet movies from miles away, because he's the only guy that writes dialog that actually simulates real conversations - breaks in the middle of words in a phone conversation, stops and starts in mid-sentence with completely new ideas breaking off old statements, etc. Just when I start forgetting about it, another little instance of it will show up again, and I smile contently with the knowledge that I can be secretly pretentious about being able to identify a writer's style in a film.

That's what's cool about Mamet. What sucks about him is that he keeps casting his wife in his movies, and Rebecca Pidgeon couldn't deliver a line if it was gift-wrapped and addressed to the guy across the street. She was the most bothersome thing about this flick, just as she was for "The Spanish Prisoner," which was otherwise pretty cool. Perhaps it's just that she isn't doing a good job of covering up her Scottish accent, but she just never feels natural at all. She makes even the less Mametish Mametisms stand out like a big, bleeding, oozing, pus-covered thumb, whereas other actors can make the dialog feel natural and unrehearsed. Pidgeon can't do it, and she's MARRIED to the guy, fer crissakes.

Pidgeon's inability to convince me she wasn't looking at cue cards made her decision to dump her fiancee and get all hot in the drawers for Philip Seymour Hoffman that much more unbelievable. The break-up scene with Clark Gregg was almost ridiculous, it was so badly performed. From what I hear, I'm apparently alone in my opinion of her, but to me, she's good-looking dead weight for every film she's in.

That aside, this film about big Hollywood filming in a small town in Vermont is generally robust with good performances. William H. Macy, who's always great, has the right subtle smarm and bastardry as the director of the film. Hoffman, who creeps me out with reminders of "Boogie Nights" and "Happiness," does a good job of keeping the creepy locked away in his role as the sincere screenwriter who's getting the shaft when his screenplay "The Old Mill" has to be rewritten because there's no old mill to shoot in. If this kinda crap happens to all movies, and screenwriters have to churn stuff out on the fly like this, it's no wonder there's so much lame-ass puke being tossed our way from these guys. David Paymer makes a good hardass producer/lawyer guy, a great counterpoint to Gregg's jittery small-town lawyer that gets surly once he's dumped for a movie guy and tries to bring the production down.

Sarah Jessica Parker has some interesting bits as the flighty "broad" lead actress that pitches a fit about taking her top off for the film, but also has some very obvious Mamet moments. Alec Baldwin has what might be the best line of the film after he flips a station wagon over in the middle of the street and crashes into a stoplight. He emerges bloodied and bruised and cheerfully says "Well, THAT happened." That was the last thing I expected to come out of his mouth, and it worked, as did the rest of his performance as the airhead movie star with the predilection for young girls like Julia Stiles, who's also pretty cool.

The sheer amount of smarm, manufactured camaraderie and thinly-veiled condescension depicted on movie sets here should make anyone aspiring to be a part of that big-movie mess think twice about what they're getting into. The people who make movies like this can be some of the most sickeningly self-important bastards in the universe, and the people shelling out ten bucks a pop to see the crap they spit out at us are just feeding their egos. Part of me wants to see a big actor strike that people are so afraid of just to see people like this get a good rogering in the pocketbook, but then people would cry that the same Hollywood magic-makers that brought them the wonders of The Goddamned Grinch Movie weren't bringing them more star-studded entertainment blockbuster extravaganzas, and would have to become addicted to Entertainment Tonight to get the dish on the latest sightings on their favorite rubber-faced funnyman! And what-not.

A lot of these schmucks need some serious humbling, but we like movies too much to give it to them.

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