WITH FRIENDS LIKE THESE...R
Released on video seven years ago but only now getting new theatrical life, With Friends Like These... would have seem dated the first time around. The question of why this film is being re-released is superseded by the question of who would want to watch it.
Writer-director Philip Frank Messina spoofs the Hollywood game with a story about four character actors who are best friends and find themselves competing for the same part-the role of Al Capone-in a new film directed by Martin Scorsese. The setup is promising, as Johnny (Robert Costanza), Steve (Adam Arkin), Armand (David Straithairn) and Dorian (Jon Tenney) each try to outwit one another during the auditions. Supposedly, the casting call tests the friendships, but none of the friends seems very bothered about their machinations to get the part.
With Friends Like These... depends on viewers enjoying an "insider" view of moviemaking, yet the film is neither darkly satirical in the Sunset Boulevard or The Player tradition, nor boisterously screwball in the Sullivan's Travels or S.O.B. vein. Rather, Messina's film most resembles a family-hour TV sitcom, with a put-upon patriarch (Costanza's Johnny), nagging wives (or hand-wringing wives), smart-alecky kids, and a script loaded with forced humor.
Even those who appreciate showbiz jokes may be mystified. It is doubtful that a reference to Kate Moss would have been very fresh in the late 1990s. Today, does anyone even remember her? Some of the film's very own cast members evoke another era, too, like Amy Madigan and Adam Arkin, and the pre-"Sopranos" "goombah" gags aren't exactly sharp and up-to-the-minute.
Yes, the Great Scorsese finally shows up and Bill Murray makes a cameo (not as himself), but where are all the other guest appearances? Isn't it de rigueur for this kind of movie to have a parade of celebrities kidding themselves? To wit, the woeful Burn, Hollywood, Burn and the disappointing The Muse featured some surprise personalities-including Scorsese in the latter!
Sorry to say, but it may be back to the video bins for With Friends Like These...