PAY OR PLAY by Jon Boorstin


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 The latest in a spate of Playeresque novels, this entertaining first fiction by Boorstin (The Hollywood Eye, 1990) borrows from the recent big-studio production disasters of our time, from Apocalypse Now to Bonfire of the Vanities, to invent a movie so bungled (and expensive) that it never gets finished. The cast of broadly drawn characters is full of types clearly derived from the pages of Variety. And the plot begins with a typically Hollywood bit of overweening ambition when a hustling mailroom clerk at an Ovitz-like agency uses a brilliant script he's intercepted to propel himself into the business. Titled ``The Agonizor,'' it's been written expressly for Klaus Frotner, the action-adventure megastar who's a client of the agency. The author, Elmo Zwalt, nurtures the dream of all first-timers--he wants to direct, which is unthinkable on the budget proposed for the film. Instead, Jason Fo, the producer son of the studio head, brings in the artsy Christopher Parrot, a Woody Allen type who seldom works outside New York and has directed only small, wry, personal dramas. When Parrot flees from the production, in steps the unlikely Homer Dooley, a former film teacher at a Vermont community college who inadvertently recorded some amazing footage on the conflict between the lumber industry and ecoterrorists. The resulting documentary won the basically talentless Dooley an Academy Award. Frotner hopes that Dooley will act as his puppet once filming begins down in New Guinea, where they have re-created a Brazilian rain forest. The film, awash in debt, is stalked by disasters, and ultimately destroyed by Frotner's weird fate. The problem here is that it's hard to parody an industry so skilled at parodying itself. Boorstin's novel has energy, wit, and some very sharp scenes, but it ultimately seems insufficiently savage: It's not nearly as bizarre as the business it wants to skewer.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-7867-0359-8
Page count: 288pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1996