America's Sweethearts | Rep. Gary Condit | Puff Daddy 

America's Sweethearts Is Sour On Everyone

Brace yourselves: America's Sweethearts is coming, and it's no Valentine. 

Even though it looks funny in the trailer and commercials, this Billy Crystal-penned comedy is kind of strange and a little painful. It's all too real, also, which makes it even odder since some of the parody seems like it's going over the actors' heads at the same as it's being delivered. 

John Cusack and Catherine Zeta-Jones play a couple modeled on Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan, although they could also be Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. The movie was written before the latter couple broke up, but Crystal uses the story of the making of Proof of Life mixed with the making of Eyes Wide Shut to get his story.

During the shoot, the wife has run off with her Spanish co-star, leaving her husband movie star in shock and depression. Now the last movie they made together is about to be released — this is the Eyes Wide Shut part — and the mysterious director (Christopher Walken, perfect in the role) refuses to let the studio see it. Without a film to promote, the studio head (Stanley Tucci) decrees that the main couple reunite, at least until the movie opens. 

Turns out that Zeta-Jones's character's personal assistant is her sister, played by Julia Roberts. In real life, Julia, of course, is extremely close to her own sister, who is not her assistant, but is by her side always. Paying attention?

ZJ’s character is petulant, moody, self-absorbed, and single-mindedly ambitious, which is not Julia Roberts in real life, but is plenty of other young actresses whose names we can all substitute here. Julia is supposed to be just part of this cast, but she shines like a diamond and you can't help thinking the director (Joe Roth, in a rare role himself) couldn't admit the movie was about her. 

With charm that saves every scene he's in, Billy Crystal plays the studio publicist. Alan Arkin has a great cameo as Cusack's guru. Cusack himself is incredibly likeable, as usual. 

But America's Sweethearts was shot, edited and prepared for distribution in record time, and it shows. The movie began production on January 11th, wrapped on March 22, and was due for release on June 24th. It got pushed back to this weekend because no one, not anyone, can prepare a major feature film that quickly. 

The script, for example, has some great stuff in it, but the whole thing begs for another draft at least, and some re-conceptualizing. It's drastically undercooked for serving to the public.

 The production values are just atrocious, with a muddy sound in the mix and cinematography that makes every scene look like it was shot in a bowl of oatmeal. Somehow the Las Vegas Hyatt Resort comes off as dismal when it could have been a rich backdrop for some real comic farce. Cinematographer Phedon Papamichael’s other middling efforts include Phenomenon, Unstrung Heroes, and Patch Adams — none of which was particularly glamorous. 

Finally, what can you say about a movie that's supposed to poke fun at stars' salaries and extravagant lifestyle, but itself lists nearly two dozen drivers in the closing credits? Even the moviemakers don't get their own joke.

 Condit's Had Bad Relationship With Local Press  

The Modesto Bee, according to a source, has had a "prickly" relationship with Rep. Gary Condit since his election in 1989. But even more startling is the news that Condit has routinely not returned phone calls from the paper during his 11 years in Congress, and has routinely snubbed reporters trying to do their job. 

This in a relatively small town where all things revolve around this congressman, a dead ringer, by the way, for actor Don Murray (Knots Landing). 

Yesterday I reported that the Bee, which is owned by McClatchy Newspapers, which also owns the Sacramento Bee, refused to let reporters discuss Condit with outsiders. The Bee has also been denying access to its photo library. A defender of the paper's position says, "They have a small staff and they're trying to control what they have. There's no deep dark secret here."

But the Bee — as well as the Sacramento Bee — has been hands-off on Condit since the Chandra Levy case broke as national news. It was only on Monday, when the Los Angeles Times ran a story about Condit's brothers, that the Modesto Bee followed suit. Prior to that, little mention had been made of one brother who is a drug addicted ex-con wanted an arrest warrant, or another who is a local cop with a questionable record on the force. 

The Modesto police report no previous record for Darrell Condit, but will not comment on outstanding warrants. 

Meanwhile, local papers — perhaps trying not to make Condit look too bad too soon — have run some odd editorials. One, on July 11th, by Anita Craemer, appeared in the Sacramento Bee.

Creamer actually criticized the Levy family for hiring "high-powered Washington attorneys and public relations people to manipulate public opinion, bending the truth to serve their own purposes." Craemer referred to Levy as "a young woman, in short, coming to terms with the world — foolish to be involved with a married man but learning to find her way." 

Is she implying that this is Chandra Levy's fault? Or worse still, that her parents are doing something wrong? I certainly hope not. The Levys want to know what happened to their daughter, and it's inexcusable that Condit has blocked their way. Anything they can do to force investigations is most heartily welcome. 

 Doo Wah Diddy: Is Puffy In Trouble?  

The votes are in, and Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs may be in some trouble career-wise. His new highly anticipated album, P. Diddy and the Bad Boy Family: The Saga Continues, hits the charts at number 2 this week. It sold a very disappointing 186,000 copies.

This, compared to the 222,000 copies Alicia Keys sold of her debut album, Songs in A Minor. Keys — who I told you folks about months ago — has now sold a total of 632,000 in just three weeks. She's on Clive Davis's J Records, which didn't even exist a year ago. 

What makes this all the more aggravating for Combs is that his record company, Bad Boy, is part of Arista Records. He was brought into Arista by Clive Davis, who eventually left to start J under a very tense atmosphere (which has been discussed here before). Now J is at number 1, Puffy is at 2, and behind Alicia Keys by about 40,000 copies. 

If you want to sample P. Diddy and friends, the entire thing is on his website at www.puffdaddy.com

Combs did a lot to promote "P. Diddy…" He appeared on the Today show, made countless spots for MTV, threw himself parties and generally made sure his fans knew a new album was coming. So what went wrong?

Possibly the public is Puffy-saturated. And it doesn't help that over the weekend he had yet another run-in with the law in Miami involving marijuana and a vehicle. Combs is considered a very good self-promoter, but maybe he's missing his own point. Maybe it's time to project a positive image and shed the Gangsta without a Cause persona. 

This can't help Arista's current beleaguered situation much, although new releases by Babyface, Blu Cantrell, and Usher could be the remedy. In the meantime, a rep for the company told me they were pleased with the first week's results and think the album has a long shelf life.

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