I get the impression that things didn’t quite work out for Joe Pesci the way he might have originally intended. There’s a heart of a serious actor buried somewhere deep under the makeup of a clown. Who can forget the dead-eyed killer Tommy from Goodfellas? Most of us have that restaurant scene engraved in our heads where Tommy asked the immortal question “Do I amuse you?” Well … Joe, actually, you do. And putting aside his initial role of Joey in Raging Bull and the aforementioned Tommy with its carbon-copied Casino character, Pesci has made the most noise by amusing us. Whether it was playing the title character in the hilarious My Cousin Vinny or the reluctant police snitch Leo Getz in the Lethal Weapon films, as much as he scared the crap out of us in Goodfellas, we’ve spent a lot more time laughing when Joe Pesci was up on the big screen. Jimmy Hollywood is certainly not the best of these funny roles, but it merits honorable mention.
Jimmy (Pesci) is one of the thousands of actor hopefuls that have come to Hollywood in search of stardom. It’s all he thinks about. He even takes out an ad on a bus stop bench, expecting Hollywood big shots to be ringing his phone off the hook with starring roles. The truth is that Jimmy is more than a little naive. He’s memorized the order of the stars on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame, and he can sit mesmerized by old Hollywood documentaries. Still, he’s not recognized for whatever talent he believes he possesses. The truth is that Jimmy really pines for a Hollywood that doesn’t even exist anymore. He’s looking for that Golden Era with the likes of Cagney and Robinson. He’s looking for streets that glitter like gold. Instead, he finds the streets are infested with criminals. His girlfriend Lorraine is robbed at gunpoint on her way home from the beauty parlor where she works. When his car is broken into and his stereo stolen, he decides to take drastic action. If the cops can’t stop the criminals, then he will. Along with his best friend and cameraman William, who is somewhat mentally only half there, he stakes out the streets waiting for the serial stereo thief to try for another stereo. They record the crook in the act, tape a confession complete with the address of his fence and tie the guy up and leave him, the stereos, and the tape at the steps of the police department. William signs the label-maker note SOS, and before long the police believe a major vigilante group is at work in Hollywood.
Never one to miss an opportunity, Jimmy decides to play the part of Jericho, the cell leader of the SOS organization. He romanticizes the act and begins to send taped warnings to the criminals and police that the SOS is going to Save Our Streets. Of course, the bit gets carried away, and before long Jimmy has resorted to arson, kidnapping and even gunfights with drug dealers. Unfortunately, Jimmy’s gun is a studio prop loaded with blanks. The crooks are using real bullets, the lethal kind. But Jericho is becoming a legendary hero on the streets, which only serves to feed Jimmy’s ego. William just goes along with it all between doctor appointments to find out what’s wrong with his brain. Lorraine pleads with Jimmy to stop, but Jimmy’s on a roll. Finally, he has visions of a glorious shootout and death scene with the police. It’s all leading to the big final-reel showdown.
This was a better film than it is often given credit for. There are some classic Joe Pesci moments here. Christian Slater hasn’t impressed me much over the years, but he’s pretty convincing as the damaged William. What makes this film as funny as it is, is the same thing that turns many folks away. There are moments of sobering reality and deadly-serious social commentary here. In one scene where Jimmy and William are filming drug deals, Jimmy ponders how the police could be missing all of this activity in plain sight. Finally he remarks, “Look what they did to my Hollywood”. It’s a powerful moment, one many of you don’t really want in your comedy. The film might be too honest for many of you who really just want to laugh. But the best comedy is comedy that’s true, and truth is all over the place in this film like the graffiti that covers the inner-city walls of Jimmy’s Hollywood. What makes the film more unnerving is that all the while we are laughing, we can’t help but face the fact that this is all going to end very badly for Jimmy and maybe even innocent William.
Jimmy Hollywood is presented in an unoriginal 1.78:1 widescreen aspect ratio. I’m a little disturbed that the film has been altered in more than a couple of ways for this release. The box warns that footage was removed and added for this “home entertainment” version of the film. I can’t tell you how it originally looked, only that the box confirms the changes. There may be little difference between a 1.85:1 and a 1.78:1 ratio, but there is a difference. I don’t see the point in changing the film at all. The high definition image is provided by an AVC/MPEG-4 codec with a bit rate of about 32 mbps. I suspect this was never a great-looking film. Levinson filmed in some rather seedy areas of Hollywood, and I would bet his intent was never to provide a “pretty” picture. Still, colors are natural. The detail is respectable. Black levels are pretty much average, but I would say the transfer does this particular film justice. Should you upgrade? I probably wouldn’t spend the green to upgrade from the DVD. The film works without the HD presentation. However, I’m rather happy to have the film in this, likely closest to the original release that we’re going to ever see.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 does what it is intended to do. This is a dialog-rich film. If you can hear it, it’s fine. However, there is a declaration on the box that music has been changed in the film. Because I never saw the box-office release, I can’t tell you what has been changed. I intend to make some inquiries and try to report to you what was altered. I suspect there were licensing issues.
Give this film half a chance and you might begin to see what director Barry Levinson was trying to do here. Sober comedy can work. MASH was considered at its best when it touched a raw emotional nerve, which it was wont to do quite often. It’s a solid performance all the way around with the cast. Levinson’s pacing might not be perfect, and the film does drag or become obvious at times. But when he catches what he’s fishing for, he reels in a big one every time. Like most of you, I dismissed this one when it made its box office run in 1994. How do I know you guys skipped it? The film pulled in barely $3 million on a $30 million budget. Check it out now at least for a rental. It’s worth a look. Harrison Ford fans should look for the great cameo of Ford playing Jimmy in the movie of Jimmy’s life. It’s one of the better codas I’ve seen to a comedy film. Trust me on this one, and give it a chance. What’s the worst that can happen? You end up hating the film and figure I wasted a couple hours of your life. “What are ya gonna do? Kill me? Everybody dies.”