As a genre, Hollywood satires often get a bum rap for being too "inside" for general audiences. But these days, the Hollywood ethos is so pervasive in popular culture that we've all become insiders whether we like it or not. In any case, I think the rap is undeserved. Funny, after all, is funny. And "What Just Happened" is awfully funny. Directed with deadpan flair by Barry Levinson and based on a memoir by Hollywood producer Art Linson, it's a pitch-perfect sendup of the movie colony with a marvelous cast that includes Stanley Tucci, Catherine Keener, John Turturro, and, most prominently, Robert De Niro, who plays a high-level but aggrieved producer who is trying to rescue his career by salvaging a potential soon-to-be-released flop – a thriller called "Fiercely" starring Sean Penn that ends with a blood spattering close-up of the hero's shotgunned pet pooch.
De Niro gives a warmly comic performance, his best in years, as a man torn between the demands of studio bosses, ex-wives, agents, and prima donna movie stars. Bruce Willis, playing "himself," is the reigning diva, refusing to shave off his thick beard for a movie. "What Just Happened" raises the tantrum to the level of an art form. Grade: A- (Rated R for language, some violent images, sexual content, and some drug material.)