MADE-FOR-HBO MOVIE "My Dinner With Herve"
WHEN | WHERE Saturday at 8 p.m. on HBO
WHAT IT'S ABOUT It's 1993, and London-based journalist Danny Tate (Jamie Dornan, "Fifty Shades of Grey") is sent to Los Angeles to interview Gore Vidal. But first, he's told to do a soft feature on Hervé Villechaize (Peter Dinklage), the washed-up former star of "The Man With the Golden Gun" who also found fame as Tattoo on TV's "Fantasy Island." Villechaize promises Tate the warts-and-all story of a lifetime — a tale of his childhood in Paris, his early years in New York, his Hollywood success and fall. During a long night while Villechaize drives him around Hollywood in a stretch limo, Tate mostly gets the warts — tales of boozing, womanizing and gun-toting. When Tate returns home, he learns that Villechaize had killed himself and that he had conducted the last interview with the actor.
This is based on a true story by Sacha Gervasi — also director of "My Dinner" — who was the journalist who had interviewed Villechaize all those years ago. In the film, Tate says he will tell Villechaize's story; Gervasi made the same pledge, too.
MY SAY "My Dinner With Hervé" is the culmination of a 25-year-old promise, and a 15-year effort by both Dinklage and Gervasi to get this to screen. Even by Hollywood Development Hell standards, that is nearly an eternity. Blood, sweat and tears were poured into this and then — when those proved insufficient — more blood, sweat and tears. Every word in the script must have been weighed, and then reweighed, every scene worked and then reworked (and re-reworked).
In a fair world, such effort, such heart, should be rewarded with a masterpiece. But the world's not fair, while Hollywood is the exact opposite of "fair." "My Dinner With Hervé" is good, occasionally just OK. If that seems like a bit of a letdown, or worse, a disappointment, then Hervé would probably understand. As this film makes clear, he had a few of those.
What happened? Hard to say: Dinklage is a brilliant actor, who couldn't blow up a role if he detonated the grenade himself. He's fine as the boozy, libidinous and (above all) self-destructive Villechaize, who crafts his obit (so to speak) through the agency of his reluctant Boswell, Danny Tate.
But too many years in re-write may have inadvertently hurt "My Dinner" because at some point the intrepid writers seemed to have forgotten what they really wanted to say about Villechaize. They settled for a standard biopic treatment instead. But even for a biopic, "My Dinner" is far from flattering to its subject, who comes off as a B-lister with too much ego and too little talent. In flashback, he wildly careers his way through town, chasing women, battling his co-star Ricardo Montalban (Andy Garcia), then quitting "Fantasy Island" with one of those the-show-can't-go-on-without-me! harrumphs. It's a showbiz tale oft told, signifying nothing.
An exasperated Tate finally breaks that news to Villechaize himself: "This story isn't even a story! It's a press release. Do you honestly think that will be printed all over the world?"
It's not much of a press release, either, by the way.
Of course it will become a story after Villechaize kills himself in 1993, but viewers are left to wonder what is left untold. At the time, press accounts cited a suicide note in which Villechaize wrote that he had been suffering from serious health problems. Those problems aren't hinted at in this portrait.
Why? Who knows. Maybe he didn't want Gervasi to know about them. That's a shame because this portrait could have been more tragic and compassionate.
BOTTOM LINE Dinklage turns in a fine performance, but his passion project is otherwise a standard-issue biopic.