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‘What Just Happened?’ You won’t care

Hollywood satire breaks no new ground, even in the overplayed genre of Hollywood satires.

Hollywood producers are — speaking generally, of course — rich, pampered, selfish, spoiled and powerful. That doesn’t mean that a talented filmmaker couldn’t make a smart, compassionate movie that would make an audience feel some sympathy for one of these guys.

“What Just Happened?” is not that movie.

Honestly, are we supposed to feel bad for Ben (Robert De Niro), who we meet as he shuttles around to his various ex-houses containing his various ex-wives, driving the kids to school while taking call after call on his Bluetooth? Over the course of a week, Ben has to grapple with a touchy British director (Michael Wincott) who doesn’t want to change the bleak ending of the new Sean Penn movie in time for the Cannes Film Festival; meanwhile, the producer is battling Bruce Willis (playing himself, unconvincingly), who refuses to shave off his beard, even though the studio suits are threatening to pull the plug on his new movie if he doesn’t.

Also giving Ben agita is his ex-wife Kelly’s (Robin Wright Penn) refusal to take him back, the ambitious young female producers throwing themselves into his bed, and the fact that his friend Scott (Stanley Tucci) is currently sleeping with Kelly.

Hear that, laid-off workers and families who are being foreclosed out of their homes? You don’t know how hard it is to take Israeli producers out for sushi or to find yourself kept out of the studio’s private jet!

Adapting his own book, writer-producer Art Linson (“Into the Wild,” “Fight Club”) doesn’t really uncover anything about the insanity of Tinseltown’s inner workings that other, better movies haven’t already revealed. (Sixteen years after “The Player,” it’s apparently still all about making temperamental British directors change their endings and grappling with the casting of Bruce Willis.) There are two funny sequences — one involving Ben and Kelly’s therapist, the other at the Cannes Film Festival — but just about everything else in “What Just Happened?” feels safe, familiar, toothless.

De Niro’s performance here is better than, say, “Righteous Kill,” but you can tell he’s still pretty much phoning it in. John Turturro overdoes it as a hypochondriacal agent, but Catherine Keener at least brings some polite menace to her role as a ruthless studio exec.

Movies have often been added to the list — just beneath sausage and legislation — of things its admirers shouldn’t watch being made. Especially if the glimpse behind the curtain is going to be as bland a pudding as “What Just Happened?”