Paper, The: By Ron Howard

Ron Howard is a mainstream director with a good nose for commercial entertainment. But his heart may be too big–he seems desperate to please all viewers–at all costs. Which explains why his movies, even the successful ones (Parenthood, Backdraft) are a mishmash in terms of narrative and style. Like some of his previous endeavors, his new stew, simply called The Paper, which was produced by Howard's long-time partner Brian Grazer, feels like a pilot for a TV series. Co-written by David Koepp (Carlito's Way) and his brother Stephen (a senior editor at Time magazine), it is an overwrought, hysterical drama about the newspaper business.

Centering on 24 hours in the life of The Sun, a tabloid modeled on the New York Post, it has an absurdly frantic pace, but nothing really registers. In fact the movie is so romantically naive and unsophisticated that you crave for the old Hollywood movies about journalism, such as The Front Page or His Girl Friday.

Advertised as an ensemble piece, the movie is nonetheless a star vehicle for Michael Keaton, who plays Metro editor Henry Hackett, a workaholic so addicted to his job he neglects his nagging pregnant wife (Marisa Tomei) at home. The whole newspaper appears to be populated with eccentrics (modern clowns), which means that each zany member gets a to deliver a wisecrack.

The story is framed in a “mystery” about two black teenagers, who have the misfortune of getting caught next to a car, in which two white businessmen had been murdered. As the film establishes quite early that the black kids didn't commit the crime, there is no mystery or real drama when the Sun debates whether to put the story on its front page.

More than anything else, I resented the simplistic analogy between Tomei's labor pains and the birth of a new daily edition. This sequence of parallel montage is bound to offend many women–and men–because it trivializes both pregnancy and journalistic work.

Up to a silly showdown with Keaton, the reliable Glenn Close, renders a decent if broad interpretation as the single career woman, a hard-bitten managing editor constantly fighting with Keaton. However, at the press screening, when Close and Keaton literally engaged in a fistfight, somebody next to me suddenly screamed Fatal Attraction and everybody burst out laughing.

Everything in the film is too grand and too obvious–Howard is a director who likes to underlie and punctuate every line. In his blatant approach, he may be to comedy what Oliver Stone is to drama. Randy Newman's insistent music, which alerts us to the heavy emotional and sexual stuff, manipulates and milks the right feelings at every turn of this potboiler.

I have no doubts that The Paper will be popular, based on the subject matter and the director's notorious penchant for whimsical behavior. Showbiz if not good taste runs deep in Howard's blood. After all, he was born into a theatrical family, made his professional debut at 18 months, and spent his formative years in the land of TV sitcoms.