HOLLYWOOD -- It is the most searing film about Hollywood in years, a funny, nasty, insider's look at an icy, Armani-suited studio executive who glides through power lunches, chats on cordless phones, makes glib judgments about movies and gets away with murder, quite literally. And Hollywood, which enjoys self-laceration as much as mean gossip, has, curiously, embraced the Robert Altman film, "The Player."
Although the film is not scheduled to be released in New York and Los Angeles until April 24, advance screenings in the last few weeks have stirred attention. Extra folding chairs were hauled into a screening the other night to accommodate the directors and producers who showed up, just like the characters in "The Player," in their new Mercedeses and BMWs. And they applauded at the finale.
"You never know how a film will strike a nerve, and I've never seen a reaction to a film like the one we're getting," said Mr. Altman, whose career has been a trajectory from such successes as "MASH" and "Nashville" to, most recently, an array of offbeat, commercial flops.
"To me, this is an essay on Hollywood and the filmmaking business," he added. "It's really a pretty amazing arrogance that exists in those people making all the decisions."
The movie, adapted by screenwriter Michael Tolkin from his 1988 novel, has an unusual multi-level cast. Its main performers include Tim Robbins, as a studio executive who murders a screenwriter (the metaphor is hardly lost on Hollywood); Greta Scacchi, as the victim's girlfriend; Whoopi Goldberg, as a bizarre policewoman from Pasadena; Dean Stockwell, as a sleazy producer, and the director, Sydney Pollack, playing a power-broker lawyer.
But appearing throughout the film are stars who not only play themselves but, in some ways, send up themselves, too: Julia Roberts, Bruce Willis, Cher, Nick Nolte, Anjelica Huston, Burt Reynolds, Lily Tomlin, Jack Lemmon, Susan Sarandon, Peter Falk.
The stars, who appeared in the movie at Mr. Altman's behest without even reading the script, contributed their one-day union-scale salaries to the Motion Picture Home, a health-care tfacility.