`Burn Hollywood Burn' Goes Ashes To Ashes

Movie review X 1/2 "An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn," with Eric Idle, Ryan O'Neal, Richard Jeni. Directed by Alan Smithee (Arthur Hiller) from a script by Joe Eszterhas. 86 minutes. Metro Cinemas. "R" - Restricted because of strong language and sexual humor.

"I ended the suffering of others who would have had to watch it," explains Alan Smithee, a frustrated movie director who has stolen the only print of his own movie. He thinks it's worse than "Showgirls" and he plans to destroy it.

Now if only he could have ended the suffering of people who will have to watch "An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn," a clueless Hollywood satire that desperately wants to be as smart and funny as "Wag the Dog" or "The Player."

Written by Joe Eszterhas, the creator of "Showgirls" (ha ha), "Burn Hollywood Burn" trots out in-jokes about Michael Ovitz and Robert Evans, guest appearances by Larry King and Variety's Peter Bart, and includes cameo appearances by Sylvester Stallone, Whoopi Goldberg and Jackie Chan.

They appear "together for the first time" as the stars of Smithee's disastrous "Trio," which its producers (Ryan O'Neal, Richard Jeni), are desperately trying to track down because it cost a fortune. Smithee wants final cut before he'll deal with them.

The level of humor could be called sophomoric, but that would insult most sophomores, who could surely come up with funnier names for famous magazines (Slime, Newsleak, Rolling Phone) and funnier notions than sticking Stallone with "Yo, Adrian" or Whoopi Goldberg with references to Ted Danson.

Most of the show-biz gags are just so yesterday. When someone announces that "Cher survived Sonny," the script begins to seem not just dated but oppressive. Surely that line, which was written before Sonny Bono's fatal skiing accident, could have been removed from the soundtrack by this point?

O'Neal, who was quite effective as a wealthy jerk in last month's "Zero Effect," can't do much with Eszterhas' familiar crass-producer gags. Eric Idle valiantly drills for laughs as the film-within-the-film's Smithee, who is in a terrible bind because he can't just take his name off the picture.

The Directors' Guild of America allows for directors' names to be replaced only by the pseudonym "Alan Smithee," when they're displeased with the final product. But Alan Smithee is his real name, so he's stuck.

The end-credits sequence for "Burn Hollywood Burn" includes a talk between Eszterhas and the original director, Arthur Hiller, who eventually asked that his name be taken off the movie after Eszterhas recut it.

That's how "Alan Smithee" wound up as the director of record for "Burn Hollywood Burn." Which makes it yet another auteurist victory for the unsung artist who gave us such unforgettable turkeys as "Ghost Fever" and "The Shrimp on the Barbie."