The Player – 2.5 stars

Robert Altman’s send-up of Hollywood process and morality opens with an audacious 7 minute, no-cut scene that is a primer on economical, fluid exposition. We meet most of our characters, including the studio’s no. 2, the writer’s executive, Griffin Mill (Tim Robbins), and the tone is set.  Unfortunately, Altman cannot fulfill the promise of his introduction. Robbins’s star is falling and he is also being threatened via postcard by a writer he has brushed off. Unnerved, he sets up a meet with who he believes to be his stalker, accidentally kills him and then falls in love with the writer’s girlfriend (Greta Scacchi). The murder is implausible and the heat-of-the-moment relationship unconvincing (a love scene with Robbins and Scaachi is not so much hot as uncomfortable). Robbins is way too mannered and standoffish to elicit empathy, and the film swerves artlessly from suspenseful to broadly comic (Whoopi Goldberg is very funny as the investigating detective, but she’s too funny).

On the plus sides, we are treated to a whirlwind tour of LA, and Altman makes sure it is populated by just about every star, young or old, he can get his hands on. Also, the lingo of the pitch meetings can be very funny:

“It’s a TV star who goes on a safari.”

“A TV star in a motion picture?”

“A TV star played by a movie star.”

“A movie star playing a TV star.”

“Michelle, Bette, Lily.”

“Dolly Parton would be good.”

“I like Goldie.”

“Great, because we have a relationship.”

“Goldie goes to Africa.”

“She’s found by this tribe.”

“- of small people.”

“She’s found and they worship her.”

“It’s like The Gods Must Be Crazy.”

“except the coke bottle is an actress.”

“Right. It’s Out of Africa.”

“meets Pretty Woman.”

Still, the script is rather gentle on the town, and it never really succeeds as a thriller or a satire. In fact, the movie could have been done without any reference to the murder at all, which, ultimately, drags it down. The Player falls into the category of Movies You Thought Were Better at the Time (Altman was nominated as Best Director, as was Michael Tolkin for the script)

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