The Kid Stays in the Picture

on July 26, 2002 by Annlee Ellingson
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   "There are three sides to every story: my side, your side and the truth." In this documentary based on his autobiography, former Paramount chief and independent producer Robert Evans doesn't claim to give you the whole story--just his side. But while his story is an entertaining and at times even engaging one, sure to be absorbed by Hollywood players and Tinseltown wannabes, a little objectivity could have gone a long way.

   The first actor ever to run a motion picture studio, Evans was discovered diving into a pool at the Beverly Hills Hotel and cast in "Man of Thousand Faces." A newcomer to Hollywood, his casting in "The Sun Also Rises" elicited strong objections from Ernest Hemingway, but producer Darryl Zanuck insisted, "The kid stays in the picture," and from then on Evans' goal was to have the power to say those words.

   Eventually he rose through the ranks and topped Paramount Studios for five years, overseeing such films as "Rosemary's Baby," "Love Story," "The Godfather" and "Chinatown." His star burned too bright, however, and burned out in the '80s, when he was arrested for drugs and linked to a murder investigation. His reputation scathed, he was a pariah in the biz until recently, and now he's on the verge of a comeback.

   Directors Brett Morgen and Nanette Burstein have the unenviable task of boiling down Evans' life into an hour and a half, and, inevitably, the film feels incomplete, hitting highlights such as Evans' failed marriage to Ali McGraw while skimming over his other marriages and relationships.

   Their use of archival footage and personal photographs is deft, adding visual interest to the latter via digital animation. But it is Evans who infuses his very personality into the film, narrating with the same biting wit that made the audio version of his autobiography a cult favorite, reconstructing phone calls from both ends of the line and impersonating celebrities such as "Rosemary's Baby" star Mia Farrow.

   The act grows tiresome, however, as Evans takes sole credit for discovering Roman Polanski (whom he unapologetically refers to as "the Pollack"), shaping "The Godfather" into the masterpiece it is today and saving Paramount from certain ruin. It's hard to sympathize with someone who can call in a favor from Jack Nicholson to reclaim his mansion after losing it because of a cocaine bust.    Starring Robert Evans. Directed by Brett Morgen and Nanette Burstein. Written by Brett Morgen. Produced by Graydon Carter, Brett Morgen and Nanette Burstein. A USA release. Documentary. Not yet rated. Running time: 91 min.

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