From Sullivan's Travels and Sunset Boulevard to S.O.B. and The Player, I've always been a sucker for movies about the movie business, since the inside-Hollywood info at the filmmakers' disposal tends to reach the silver screen in a raw, uncut form that allows every blemish to be tantalizingly exposed and even magnified. What Just Happened, however, is only partly successful in its attempts to wallow in the wickedness of the motion picture industry, as a scattershot screenplay by veteran producer Art Linson (adapting his own memoir) perpetually keeps losing sight of the important targets.
Robert De Niro plays Ben, who's experiencing major difficulties with both films on which he's currently serving as producer. The violent drama Fiercely (starring Sean Penn) is set to debut at the Cannes Film Festival, but a disastrous test screening places Ben in the middle of a spat between the studio head (Catherine Keener, again pigeonholed in the role of a frigid ballbuster) who wants to recut the picture and the director (Michael Wincott) who insists any changes will destroy the purity of his vision. Meanwhile, Ben is also having trouble getting Bruce Willis (as himself), the star of his next action movie, to shave an imposing beard that makes him look like a cross between Grizzly Adams and Santa Claus.
Linson's industry jabs are frequently amusing but rarely uncover anything new, and his sidebars involving Ben's family woes add nothing to the mix; meanwhile, Barry Levinson, continuing his career slide (from Oscar glory with Rain Man to 10 Worst lists with Envy and Man of the Year), directs with little sense of passion or purpose. There's added (and perhaps unintentional) humor, though, when Willis, the star of Hudson Hawk and Armageddon (among many other stinkbombs), stands around yammering about his artistic integrity.