Telling Lies in America [1997]

Joe Eszterhas (formulaic screenwriter of many overpaid projects, most infamously Basic Instinct and Showgirls) somewhat redeems himself with this semi-autobiographical story. His mouthpiece is Karchy Jonas (Brad Renfro), a Hungarian-born immigrant (like Eszterhas himself) growing up in Cleveland in 1960. His pop (Maximilian Schell) works hard to send Karchy to an expensive high school, where Karchy is ostracized by the rich kids and labors to find acceptance. Into town walks itinerant rock DJ Billy Magic (Kevin Bacon), the quintessence of cool with a dark charm. Magic needs a teen to run errands for him (mostly carrying payola envelopes), so he hosts a "High School Hall of Fame" contest to help him find an assistant. Karchy, who idolizes Magic, wins the contest by forging signatures of his classmates on postcards. Magic knows of Karchy's deception and is intrigues by it, as that is the kind of dishonesty he's looking for in his assistant. Karchy's lying grows into a major character trait, forcing the kid into many difficult social situations, not the least of which involves government officials investigating the slippery Magic for payola and threatening to jeopardize Karchy's family's citizenship status if he doesn't cooperate. Although no less a formula plot than other Eszterhas stuff, this one's lifted a bit by the director's personal connection to the story and by a great, charismatic performance by Kevin Bacon. Much more could be written about the connection between lying and storytelling, and fending for oneself in the mendacious jungles of Hollywood, but suffice it to say that Karchy eventually grows up to write Showgirls. --Jim Gay

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