America’s Sweethearts is just the kind of romantic froth that makes for pleasant viewing on a lazy, rainy day. While Julia Roberts, John Cusack, and Catherine Zeta-Jones offer high-wattage marquee value, costar and cowriter Billy Crystal reworks Singin’ in the Rain for latter-day Hollywood, where estranged superstars Gwen (Zeta-Jones) and Eddie (Cusack) reluctantly promote their latest movie by pretending their messily disputed relationship is still going strong. The studio chief (Stanley Tucci) is desperate for a hit, so he hires a seasoned publicist (Crystal) to orchestrate a press junket that will cast everyone in a profitable light. The catch: The director (Christopher Walken) has abducted his own film in an act of artistic extortion, and Gwen’s sister and longtime assistant Kiki (Roberts) is the true object of Eddie’s desire.
Chaos ensues at the luxury hotel where the junket is scheduled, and America’s Sweethearts pokes easy fun at the cynical machinery that keeps Hollywood running. Quotable quips are delivered in abundance, and while Zeta-Jones is readily convincing as a bitchy narcissist, Roberts effortlessly steals the show with her trademark charms. All of which makes America’s Sweethearts lightly entertaining, even though it never rises (like Roberts’s earlier Notting Hill) to the level of classic romantic comedy, hampered by a script that too often substitutes easy laughs for ripe satirical invention, flashing a phony grin when it should be baring its fangs. –Jeff Shannon