A screwball-style, Hollywood-tweaking romantic comedy starring William H. Macy and Meg Ryan, version 2.0, The Deal is a movie that overcomes one of the most terribly obvious PhotoShopped covers of recent memory, as well as a back cover that misspells the name of one of its main characters. In addition to affording screen capture enthusiasts more opportunities to gawk at Macy’s bare ass, the film gives its talented multi-hyphenate a fun chance to play roguish and oblivious. Put it on the front end of a double bill with a Chinese takeout buffet and David Mamet’s State and Main, also starring Macy, and you have yourself a pleasant little evening.
Adapted by Macy and director Steven Schachter from Peter Lefcourt’s book of the same name, The Deal opens with despondent, washed-up Hollywood producer Charlie Berns (Macy) trying to off himself, only to be interrupted by his nephew Lionel (Jason Ritter), an idealistic screenwriter who’s penned a script about former British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli. Seizing on the touted desires of Bobby Mason (LL Cool J, standing in for, oh, Vin Diesel, let’s say), a meatheaded action star and recent convert to Judiasm, to delve into more Jewish-centric material, Berns gets it in his head to take Lionel’s earnest, wholly uncommercial script and turn it into a wildly reimagined, thunderously stupid “freedom fighter” biopic. Wheeling and dealing, planting bogus stories of a bidding war in the trades, Charlie gets a hit-hungry studio desperate to get onboard a Mason picture to snap up the screenplay, and he then shrewdly taps Mason’s manager for rewrite duties. Along the way, Charlie becomes enamored with Deidre Hearn (Ryan), the slightly stuffy, self-serious development executive assigned to fast track the project.
Beginning with the second act, The Deal pivots to South Africa (where it was actually entirely filmed), chronicling the making of Berns and Hearn’s movie, where all sorts of various emergencies flare up, from a temperamental director to a nervous star. With cost-conscious studio execs already circling, Mason gets kidnapped by Muslim extremists. Things look bleak, but an emboldened Deidre finally comes around to Charlie’s damn-the-consequences style, and convinces him to take part in an on-the-fly refashioning of the movie as a legitimate arthouse endeavor.
The Deal‘s dialogue has a nice, ’30s-style patter to it, whether in incidental, passing fancy (“Good job, Hun,” says Charlie, walking past a costumed marauder on the studio lot) or the many scenes in which Charlie tries (and eventually succeeds in) getting into Deidre’s power-suit pants. Not everything works. In fact, the whole kidnapped-movie-star bit was much more effectively played out in last summer’s Tropic Thunder; here it’s just a throwaway gag — albeit a big, plot-shifting one — and then we’re off and running in another direction, never to actually see Mason’s character again. If that sort of abrupt, tacks-underneath-the-tires narrative switcheroo — where you think you’re headed one way, narratively speaking, only to be suddenly thrust in another direction — seems a bit like the storytelling equivalent of sand in the eyes during a playground fight, in the end it doesn’t much matter. Wry and dirty-minded, Macy absolutely steamrolls scenes, and if there’s a big tonal misstep midway through that unnecessarily tries to bring shading to his character — a maudlin sequence where Charlie finds out about the marriage of his adult daughter — most of the movie is content to just let Macy hoodwink folks, like a shrugging, devil-may-care loafer. That’s a plenty good deal, it turns out.
Housed in a regular plastic Amray case with a deep-set, single circular nesting notch, The Deal comes to DVD presented in 1.78:1 widescreen, with Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound and 2.0 stereo audio tracks. Apart from the theatrical trailer for the movie, the only other bonus feature is a 17-minute making-of featurette. It’s chock full of interviews from all the major players, both on screen and off, but Macy holds forth with many of the best ruminations, positing that Hollywood is for the most part a microcosm of society, and also that a writer watching a movie get made from his book is a bit like watching someone make love to one’s wife. “What are they supposed to say,” Macy jokes. “‘Good job?'” There’s also a digital download copy of the film included on the disc, for rip-and-play portability. To purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here. B (Movie) C+ (Disc)