Like George Clooney says in Ocean's Eleven, do the math: four Canon XL1 digital cameras, one dual 800 MHz Power Mac G4, a copy of editing software Final Cut Pro 3, 18 shooting days, a 2-million-buck budget, one Oscar-winning Best Director, and nine high-profile actors (among them Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt, David Duchovny, Catherine Keener, and David Hyde Pierce) who drove themselves to the set, did their own hair, brought their own meals, improvised most of their scenes, and worked for pennies on the dollar. It all adds up to the kind of guerrilla-style project in which a former indie revolutionary indulges himself after a string of big-budget movies (Erin Brockovich, Traffic, Ocean's Eleven) and a golden statue on the mantel -- a goof (and goof-off) only masquerading as "return to roots."
That doesn't diminish the copious rewards of Steven Soderbergh's wry and capricious Full Frontal, but don't confuse it with High Art (or even low art). It's too fun and too full of itself to take seriously, seeing as how it includes Nazis doing the pop-and-lock and Brad Pitt playing Brad Pitt playing Brad Pitt in a slick and dopey Se7en remake. Rather, it's Soderbergh, a filmmaker equally adept with the frivolous as with the high-minded, copping a Kevin Smith, rounding up his pals for a movie about a movie about a movie... about, dear God, a movie. In other words, this is the send-up Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back aspired to be -- funded, even, by the same studio (Miramax), which itself long ago became a parody anyway.
Myriad characters, all tied somehow to the entertainment business, wander around Los Angeles during a single day and wind up on the L'Hermitage hotel rooftop for the 40th birthday party of movie producer Gus (David Duchovny). Full Frontal plays like Soderbergh's Short Cuts (or his The Player), his Magnolia, his L.A. Story or Grand Canyon even: A gangbang of celebs play regular folk and real famous trying to figure out the meaning of it all, only to discover there's no significance to anything they touch. That's because deep down, there is no deep down to any of these people: They're shallow, hollow, self-important, vain, and utterly delusional. And none of them exist, because as Soderbergh keeps reminding us, this is only a movie. Or, actually, three movies in one. Maybe more -- it's hard to tell, but fun to guess.
There's Francesca (Roberts), an actress who forces her personal assistant to break up with her boyfriends for her; Carl (Pierce), a writer for Los Angeles magazine who envies the homeless their full heads of hair; Lee (Keener), Carl's wife and a human resources exec who hilariously humiliates those she's about to fire; Calvin (Blair Underwood), an actor making a movie in which he plays... an actor; Arty (Just Shoot Me's Enrico Colantoni), a playwright-actor looking for Internet love; and Linda (Mary McCormack), Lee's sister and a masseuse who refuses to provide a "happy ending." Add to the mix a neurotic local-theater Hitler (show-stealing Nicky Katt), two filmmakers playing filmmakers (Soderbergh and Fight Club's David Fincher), a real-life movie producer (Ocean Eleven's Jerry Weintraub) playing a malicious magazine editor, and Terence Stamp playing himself and his character from Soderbergh's The Limey and you wind up essentially with two mirrors facing each other -- an endless reflection of a reflection, a fun-house ride that goes on forever.