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Dress for Success

New Suit takes off on Hollywood.

Hollywood has always been an easy target, especially when it turns the gun on itself. The makers of New Suit, a new wiseass movie-industry satire, include a French director, Francois Velle, who never has made a U.S. film until now, and a young screenwriter, Craig Sherman, whose most notable previous credit is a TV pilot for the USA Network -- so they obviously don't boast the battle scars of old vets like Billy Wilder (who skewered Hollywood delusion in Sunset Boulevard) or Robert Altman (who had at Hollywood excess in The Player). But Velle and Sherman have a highly developed sense of the absurd, and New Suit manages to take down the old idols while keeping the tone of the slaughter surprisingly lighthearted.

The hero of the piece is -- what else ?-- an idealistic young writer, Kevin Taylor (Jordan Bridges), who arrives in sunny Los Angeles from parts unknown full of preposterous notions about the value of art and the dignity of the creative process. Promptly turned away by haughty studio secretaries and kicked out of agents' offices, he takes a grunt job as a gofer for an explosive producer on a long losing streak (the hilarious Dan Hedaya) and starts rubbing up against a collection of frauds, poseurs, airheads and hypocrites -- all of them clawing at movie-world success. The most toxic of these wannabes is a blond schemer named Marianne Roxbury (Marisa Coughlan), who calls herself a "producer," although the only thing she's produced is a twisted fantasy about her own career.

Two pecks on Sherman's typewriter later, we find ourselves in a contemporary retelling of The Emperor's New Clothes, decorated with generous dollops of Hollywood paranoia and Hollywood envy. Angered at lunch by some ambitious young friends' sniping, Kevin Taylor exacts revenge by concocting a fiction about a mysterious screenwriter whose new script is the hottest spec property in town. As New Suit's ruling conceit would have it, the unread, insecure peons at lunch instantly take the bait, and in a matter of hours our hero's nonexistent writer and his nonexistent script (also called New Suit) are the buzz of the entire industry. The worst sin in Hollywood, it says here, is being out of the know and thus devoid of power, so before you can say "feeding frenzy" the local rumormongers have churned out all kinds of self-serving nonsense about the phantom screenplay and its author, "Jordan Strawberry."

Clothes call: Marisa Coughlan and Jordan Bridges in 
New Suit.
Clothes call: Marisa Coughlan and Jordan Bridges in New Suit.
Clothes call: Marisa Coughlan and Jordan Bridges in 
New Suit.
Clothes call: Marisa Coughlan and Jordan Bridges in New Suit.
Clothes call: Marisa Coughlan and Jordan Bridges in 
New Suit.
Clothes call: Marisa Coughlan and Jordan Bridges in New Suit.

One striver speculates that the story is about "a liquid metal guy that only kids can see," while another insists it merges The Full Montyand Star Wars. Suddenly, everybody is the mentor, friend or confidant of Jordan Strawberry (also known as Jackson, James or Jermaine Strawberry) and, as the bidding war for his screenplay intensifies, they all have pet theories about his mysterious absence: He's climbing in the Himalayas; he's chasing tornadoes in the Midwest; he simply refuses to take meetings with studio execs. Our man Kevin views the monster he's created with bemusement; Marianne Roxbury sees the scam as her main chance; and the movie's nice assortment of clowns and grotesques work themselves into an unholy fever of greed and lust. One self-absorbed movie magnate, pretending to have the inside track on Strawberry and New Suit, boldly announces: "I got Will Smith and J.Lo ready to shoot tomorrow!" Talk about a writer's outlandish fantasy. For Sherman, who's evidently suffered some bumps and bruises himself in L.A., this has to be the ultimate wish fulfillment -- an intermittently bitter comedy in which the object of everyone's desire is not some curvy starlet or chiseled hunk, but a screenwriter.

In terms of Hollywood self-loathing, none of this is particularly original, but the satire is elevated by high-spirited fun, and the actors appear to have a ball taking potshots at a world they know well. As the desperate, hit-starved producer, Muster Hansau, veteran character actor Hedaya (Mulholland Drive, Shaft) steals the show as he mixes into a vivid comic portrait all the ill temper, raw vanity and thickheadedness we expect in a hardened Hollywood opportunist. Meanwhile, Bridges (Drive Me Crazy, Frequency) gets it just right as the innocent experiencing his first taste of corruption. This actor, as well, has probably seen a thing or two: The son of Beau Bridges and the grandson of Lloyd Bridges, he's industry born and bred.

In the end, of course, the hero wants to tell the truth, slay the sharks and save his own soul -- no mean feat in a culture born of artifice and nourished by delusion. He doesn't have to die to get there (the ghosts of William Holden and Gloria Swanson seem to oversee the proceedings), but in the gospel according to Velle and Sherman, he's got to make the inevitable clean break. What more appropriate image could we behold, at the close of this pointed Hollywood farce, than a vulture on a desert highway pecking at a cell phone?

 
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