The Muse
Director: Albert Brooks
Screenplay: Albert Brooks & Monica Johnson
Cast: Albert Brooks, Sharon Stone, Andie MacDowell
NY Distribution Status: opens 27 August 1999 (USA)

Grade: C-

Is it legal for an Albert Brooks movie to be this resoundingly awful? Frankly, I'm still in shock. Defending Your Life and Mother were a bit soggily pseudo-Freudian, true, but at least the zingers never stopped comin'; here, Brooks plays a screenwriter who is told repeatedly that he's "lost his edge," and it feels as if everybody's talking about the script for the movie that they're acting in right that second. Part of the problem, I think, is that Brooks' comic persona is only effective when he's playing a destructive force of egocentric nature; in The Muse, he's essentially a victim, and so his exasperated kvetching and defensive wisecracks simply make him seem annoying -- he doesn't seem to recognize, as he usually does, that his protagonist is fundamentally a self-absorbed jerk. A much bigger problem, however, is that the film -- I still can't believe that I'm about to type these words -- just plain isn't funny. And I don't mean that it's, say, merely pleasantly amusing as opposed to bust-a-gut hysterical; I mean that Brooks deploys joke after joke after joke and not a single one combusts -- I laughed once, smiled twice, lost track of the number of disbelief-inspired head-shakes by the middle of reel two. Typical of the film's limp comedy is the moment, early on, when one of Brooks' daughters asks Daddy what a "humanitarian" is, and he replies "It's somebody who didn't win the Oscar" -- not a bad line for Billy Crystal at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, I suppose, but it's a sad, sad day when a once-daring comedian like Albert Brooks is reduced to facile sub-Woody one-liners. I'm too depressed, I think, to get into Stone's emotional intractability (her Muse's brilliant idea, by the way? Cast Jim Carrey in a dopey summer comedy! Why didn't I think of that?), or MacDowell's vacant fussiness, or the way that a truly great actor like Jeff Bridges is used solely as a familiar, friendly face -- he's given nothing to play except for an inability to hit a tennis ball over a regulation net (this was one of the two smiles). In fact, no movie this year has left me feeling so utterly downcast. I'm just gonna forget I ever saw it, if it's all the same to you.