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I'll Do Anything

It's a shameful crime of Hollywood hubris when a studio tries to pass off a spectacular, staggering bomb like I'll Do Anything as just another under-the-radar library title. If any film of the 1990s begs for some kind of super-deluxe special edition what-in-blazes-were-we-thinking autopsy, it's James L. Brooks' bewilderingly misconceived 1994 romantic comedy, which, despite its ultimately neutered theatrical release incarnation, was conceived, shot, and test-screened as a dumbfoundingly bad musical starring Nick Nolte, Albert Brooks, Julie Kavner, and one of the worst child actresses in history singing songs by Carole King, Sinead O'Connor and, um, Prince? Nevertheless, Columbia TriStar releases I'll Do Anything conspicuously bare-boned. It's almost a given that a soul-searching, head-scratching mea culpa commentary by writer-director Brooks or a ruthlessly fun Hearts of Darkness-like disaster documentary would have added incalculable value to the otherwise shockingly poor, stupid, and annoying movie that resulted from Brooks' heartbroken re-edit. I'll Do Anything was eventually released with all but one of the songs excised, starring Nolte as a downtrodden actor enduring the ruthless humilities of shallow casting mores while struggling to reacquaint with his estranged young daughter (the abominable Whittni Wright, whose career sparingly stopped shortly after her gruesomely saccharine performance of the movie's lingering musical moments). Nolte wanders through the film in a confused daze instead of anchoring the narrative, and the deadening subplot about a Joel Silveresque producer's (Albert Brooks) romance with a dowdy, furrowed brow frau (Kavner) is boring as well as improbable. All of the acting is overdrawn, as if to compete for attention with the absent Twyla Tharp production numbers, and even too broadly, at that. Overall, Brooks' film — incredibly, a follow-up to his sublime, pitch-perfect 1987 dramedy Broadcast News — feels like a hollow shell: an exercise in genre with the genre surgically removed, with no generic purpose left to inspire it. None of the performers have ever been worse, and at its best moments — usually between (Albert) Brooks and Kavner — (James) Brooks' typically keen dialogue sounds like desperate, pathetic mimicry of the poignant, insightful humor of his earlier work. Maybe the movie is still too close to Brooks for him to approach it with a self-deprecating scalpel, but without that kind of posterity-by-perspective, this I'll Do Anything DVD release is as pointless as its insipid preludes to the songs that never come on. Also with the ghastly Tracey Ullman in an even ghastlier wig. Columbia's disc features a clean anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Trailers, keep-case.
—Gregory P. Dorr

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