“The last thing any director needs is you, of all people, to stand up for us.”
The You in question is Joe Eszterhas, the infamous screenwriting bad boy who cut his teeth on a rewrite of Flashdance (1983) and forgettable erotic thrillers and comedies through the ’80s before writing the Greatest Erotic Thriller, Basic Instinct (1992 – in two weeks purportedly) and then the Greatest (Somewhat Unintentional) Comedy, Showgirls (1995) – a film for which he was paid a record breaking 3.7 million dollars, making him the highest paid screenwriter in history. As anyone who has seen it knows – and if you haven’t, shame on you; stop reading and go buy it immediately – Showgirls more than earns Eszterhas his reputation for being a schlocky misogynist and made him the poster child for excess and megalomania (the subtitle of one of his books is called The Screenwriter as God!…). Outspoken and gregarious, Eszterhas has never been afraid to point fingers and name names in Hollywood (his most recent book is called Heaven and Mel about his time in Costa Rica with Mel Gibson, detailing the fall out of their friendship over Mel’s tyrannical behavior and Anti-Semitism), shitting on anyone who he felt deserved it – even himself. This outlook on the business coalesced into a screenplay. Sort of.
An Alan Smithee Film Burn Hollywood Burn is about a director who is so distraught over the producer’s cut of his film that he decides to steal the negative and burn it. Ordinarily, if a director is displeased to the point of embarrassment by a movie they have made, they have the option of crediting it to “Alan Smithee,” the DGA’s pseudonym for disowning a film (at present, imdb lists 82 films “directed by Alan Smithee”…). But in Eszterhas’ film, the director’s name IS Alan Smithee. So what can he do? Why, steal the negative and threaten to destroy it, of course!
Alan Smithee (Eric Idle) is a serious theatre director from England who is hired by James Edmunds (Ryan O’Neal as a slimy producer) to make a big budget action movie; how and why this would ever happen is one of the film’s many mysteries. Edmunds and Co. are excited to have him on board because they feel they can control him. But Smithee fights back. Realizing that the movie he was forced to make is utter bullshit, he decides to save his reputation by making sure the film never gets seen. What could unfold as a fun caper film is stifled by Eszterhas’ desire to preach about the “evils” of Hollywood – even using Robert Evans, Shane Black, Sylvester Stallone, Jackie Chan, Whoopi Goldberg, and himself as parodies of themselves to ground it in some kind of strange reality; Joe’s World, where men are assholes and women are sluts.
The plot is shaky (at best); the film is really just a series of soliloquies delivered to the camera about Alan Smithee’s spiral into madness culminating in his larcenous act. There is some kind of blackmail scheme with Chuck D. and Coolio, but by this point of the film, you are so checked out that you are just dying for it to be over. A strange hybrid of The Player and Pootie-Tang, An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn, like Showgirls, sets out to uncover a universe, but just ends up drowning in a sea of cliches and its writer’s own ejaculate.
The ultimate irony is that the film’s director, Oscar nominated Arthur Hiller (Love Story), ended up hating the movie so much that he credited Alan Smithee.