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Friday, August 27, 1999

Amusing grace

Movie: The Muse

Posted on Fri, Aug 27, 1999 at 4:00 AM

***1/2
The Muse
Length: 1 hour, 37 minutes
Studio: October Films
Website: http://www.themusemovie.com/
Release Date: 1999-08-27
Cast: Sharon Stone, Albert Brooks, Andie McDowell, Jeff Bridges
Director: Albert Brooks
Screenwriter: Albert Brooks
Music Score: Elton John
WorkNameSort: The Muse
Our Rating: 3.50

If you're a fan of Albert Brooks, a.k.a. "the West Coast Woody Allen," you know what kind of hero to expect in the new comedy/drama he co-wrote, directed and stars in, "The Muse." He's a successful guy of unexceptional needs, Steven Phillips, who suddenly finds his world dramatically changed. So he does something crazy.

This time he doesn't move in with his mother (as in "Mother"). Or run away to find his lost youth (as in "Lost in America"). Instead, he hires a muse. Since nobody studies Greek mythology any longer, it should be pointed out that in the ancient Greek religious scheme of things, there were seven muses (guess where the word "music" came from?), daughters of their chief god, Zeus, who guided the fortunes of mortals' talents.

A direct descendant of one of these muses appears (in this movie, at least) in the shape of Sharon Stone in Hollywood. Sarah comes recommended to the neurotic screenwriter by his peers, Oscar-winning members of the filmmaking community (including characters played by Jeff Bridges, Rob Reiner and, in a hilarious cameo, Martin Scorsese). And since Steven is being criticized for work that "lacks edge," she seems the ideal solution to his career blues.

Ah, but the Stone character's a doozy. While she drops marvelous hints and ingenious ideas like they were soiled Kleenex, she dances through Steven's life like Hurricane Andrew. She's demanding, capricious and downright irritating. And before long, she's all but moved Steven out of his own home, while, by the way, overtaking the life of his wife, Laura (Andie MacDowell).

So how high a price are you willing to pay for success and inspiration? That and other questions move to the center of this delightful entertainment, which also offers a delectable dissection of Hollywood manners and morals. It's Brooks at his best, and his most mature.

While Brooks has always been funny to one degree or another, he's never been a joke-slinger. He roots his humor in observation, like, say, Jerry Seinfeld. But unlike Seinfeld, he's never neglected his own moral struggles.

As for Stone, she's rarely been better. Beautiful as always, she shows a real flair for comedy that may signal a new career direction for the former femme fatale.

Andie MacDowell once again proves she's a terrific second banana; she can deliver that wide-eyed reaction shot with the best of 'em.

But Brooks occupies the heart of things, of course, and watching him extricate himself from his cockeyed moral thicket makes for half the fun of "The Muse." He and frequent co-writer Monica Johnson share the obvious fun they're having in tweaking Hollywood's conceits.

Any veteran moviegoer or observer of modern entertainment machinery will find dozens of moments to savor. But even if you don't get the insider humor, don't worry. There's plenty of fun in "The Muse" to go around.

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