Directed by Joe Roth, starring Julia Roberts, Billy Crystal, Catherine Zeta-Jones, John Cusack, Hank Azaria, Stanley Tucci and Christopher Walken.

Arguably too smug and predictable for its own good, Joe Roth's 'America's Sweethearts' is nonetheless one of the few American comedies this year that just about manages to make the grade, largely, and perhaps unsurprisingly, due to the presence of Billy Crystal.

Gwen Harrison (Zeta-Jones) and Eddie Thomas (Cusack) used to be America’s favourite acting couple. With an ostensibly perfect marriage and a string of box-office smash hits together, the pair were the epitome of the classic golden couple – young, beautiful, and extremely rich. Now, however, the marriage lies in ruins after Gwen’s affair with a Spanish co-star. After eighteen months of separation, Gwen is still seeing her Castilian Adonis, while the emotionally fragile Eddie is holed up in a therapy centre with his "wellness guide".

Now their last film together has come through post-production and is ready for release; studio head Dave Kingman (Tucci) knows that to increase the chances of success at the box-office, he needs to sell the public the notion that the erstwhile diamond duo have re-united. He also knows that there is only one man capable of pulling off the illusion: Lee Philips (Crystal), a veteran publicist who has handled all of the former couple’s previous starring vehicles.

Philips knows that the best chance of persuading Gwen and Eddie to go along with the charade is through Gwen’s PA, Kiki (Roberts). It transpires that the once-frumpy Kiki actually harbours feelings for Eddie, and worse still, she also happens to be Gwen's sister. So off we go to a press junket weekend in a desert hotel, where Lee and Kiki must cope with the conceited Gwen, a nervous Eddie, and myriad contingencies. To top it off, the film’s maverick director Hal Weidmann (Walken) insists that the junket is the first time anyone gets the chance to see the movie, including the increasingly edgy studio bosses!

It's easy to knock 'America’s Sweethearts' for being too shallow and self-congratulatory and, admittedly, it is. But after a season of disappointing comedy, dominated by dodgy sequels (Scary Movie 2, Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles, American Pie 2), it does just enough to please. On the acting front, Roberts is marginally less irritating than usual, Mrs Douglas is suitably stuck-up, and Cusack is just plain dull. So it's left to Crystal and Tucci to keep the momentum going. Slight, but at least fitfully funny.

Tom Grealis