By Rob Blackwelder
"EDtv" doesn't pass on a single opportunity for a laugh. A lightsatire about an earnest Everyman picked to be the subject of a 24-7 cableTV show, even when its cuts away to a shot of the show's nervous directorholed up in a broadcast van, the camera zooms in for a tight shot of hisbad hair plugs as he yells into his headset.
The first comedy in 14 years from director Ron Howard ("Ransom,"Apollo 13," "Splash"), and by far his funniest, "EDtv"stars Matthew Mcconaughey as Ed, an affable San Francisco video store clerkwho becomes a national sensation as the star of his own always-on "RealWorld"-like cable network after winning a contest he never plannedto enter.
Put up to it by his perpetual frat boy brother (the ideallycast Woody Harrelson) -- who sees the show as a chance to be somebody andshow off his beautiful girlfriend, Sheri (Jenna Elfman) -- Ed starts hisfirst day on nation-wide TV with a camera crew in his bedroom sending outlive feed of him scratching morning wood while still half asleep. Beforehe gets used to the cameras, he's also caught checking out his ass on hisTV and introduces his friends and family to his meager but growing audience.
McConaughey couldn't be more perfect for the role of Ed,a homespun and handsome transplanted Texan who takes his potential notorietyin stride until it begins to wreak havoc on his life, and especially hislove life.
A few days into the broadcast, he drops in on his brotherand, hearing a girl's voice coming from the bedroom, asks "Is thatSheri?"
"Who's Sheri?!?" a naked girl demands of Harrelson,followed immediately by his telephone ringing insistently. Sheri, it seems,has been watching the show.
Ed, stand-up guy that he is, runs over to Sheri's to apologizefor his brother and one thing leads to another. Cut to a shot of Harrelsonwatching his brother kiss his girlfriend live on national television.
Howard regularly cuts away to a several groups of viewers,designed to serve as a surrogate audience and diversify his whiteberadcast. Frequently featured fans glued to the show include a gay Soho couple,a pair of black suburbanites whose marriage gets rocky over the wife'sEDtv addiction, and a gaggle of jammie-clad sorority chicks who root wildlyfor the budding romance between Ed and Sheri.
While such elements are not the only thing "EDtv"has in common with last summer's inventive and astute "The TrumanShow," this picture is pure entertainment. It doesn't share that movie'sominous sociological context, even when it does speak to the society'srampant voyeurism, in part because Ed is a willing participant -- at leastin the beginning.
At first the show's ratings don't look very promising,which serves as a catalyst for the best performance in the movie -- EllenDeGeneres as EDtv's desperate producer, going out on a limb with this showin a gamble to save her job. She is the perfect supporting player and getmany of the movie's best laughs with her droll delivery.
DeGeneres reports to Rob Reiner, who does a pristine parodyof a heartless network executive that refuses to let Ed out of his contractand begins to manipulate the show for ratings.
Howard's other casting choices are just as impeccable.Elizabeth Hurley plays a celebrity-glomming sexpot, all lip gloss and cleavage,brought on by Reiner to get Ed laid after Sheri cracks under the pressureand moves away, leaving him heartbroken.
Ed's absentee father comes calling in the person of DennisHopper, and his mother and step-dad are played by Sally Kirkland and MartinLandau.
The story arch of "EDtv" is fairly predicableEd must inevitably get fed up with his celebrity, fight the network forhis freedom (it's a little hard to sympathize with someone who's such arube he doesn't read his contract before signing) and win Sheri back fora happy ending.
The movie degenerates somewhat in the last 20 minutes whenDeGeneres finds a conscience and the story turns too warm and fuzzy, becomingobvious and pandering with "solution" that is just too neat andtidy for the circumstances.
Howard is also far too fond of demonstrating the show'sgrowing reach through custom clips from "The Tonight Show," "PoliticallyIncorrect," et al. This technique is as trite as the old fashionedspinning newspaper headlines that it has replaced.
But petty qualms aside, "EDtv" is a terrificallywell-crafted picture. Sub-plots and incidental characters (like the audiencemembers) are agilely balanced with the charming romance and Ed's centralconflict with celebrity.
Ultimately, though, it's the sublime cast that makes thismovie. McConaughey is at his most congenial doing that subtle Southerncharm thing he does so well. Elfman is so adorable and endearing I wantedto kiss her as much as Ed did, and Harrelson just goes to town as the party-onsibling while exposing his insecurities on the sly.
This is the best clean fun I've had at the movies so farthis year.
Run time: 122 mins
In Theaters: Friday 26th March 1999
Distributed by: Universal Studios
Production compaines: Imagine Entertainment, Universal Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 62%
Fresh: 28 Rotten: 17
IMDB: 6.1 / 10
Director: Ron Howard
Starring: Matthew McConaughey as Ed 'Eddie' Pekurny, Woody Harrelson as Ray Pekurny, Sally Kirkland as Jeanette, Jenna Elfman as Shari, Martin Landau as Al, Ellen DeGeneres as Cynthia Topping, Rob Reiner as Mr. Whitaker, Dennis Hopper as Henry 'Hank' Pekurny, Elizabeth Hurley as Jill, Adam Goldberg as John, Viveka Davis as Marcia, Clint Howard as Ken, Geoffrey Blake as Keith, Gail Boggs as Wife, Jenna Byrne as Felicia, Greg Sestero as Roach
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