Chump Change

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Surviving La-La Land

Reel Talk Movie Reviews
By Betty Jo Tucker

Pursuing show-biz fame has never been depicted more hilariously than in Chump Change, a movie written and directed by Stephen Burrows, who also stars in his semi-autobiographical flick. He plays Milwaukee Steve, whose appearance in a jock-itch commercial has brought him notoriety but no acting offers. After his own short movie lambasting Merv Griffin is banned, Milwaukee becomes a hot Hollywood commodity before he's written one full-length script.

Burrows lampoons Tinseltown by revealing how frustrating it is to pitch a story and do constant rewrites after a project receives the "greenlight." Consider these mind-boggling Hollywood characters Milwaukee must work with: a wildly unreasonable producer (Tim Matheson), an on-again/off-again agent (Fred Willard); and a 13-year-old studio boss (Theo Greenly).

At the request of the producer, our hero makes his script as funny as possible, then gets loudly and sternly reprimanded by the same man for writing it "too funny." Notes on his script are sent to him by the agent, the studio boss, his manager (A.J. Benza), and several people he's never even met. Milwaukee's final solution to this bizarre situation (which I can't reveal for fear of spoiling things for you) gave the writer in me a great deal of satisfaction.

During a trip back to his Wisconsin hometown to pick up the pieces of his downward-spiraling life, Milwaukee relays his misadventures to Sam (Traci Elizabeth Lords), a local girl who shares many of his likes and dislikes. Burrows and Lords make a sweet on-screen couple. Their rapport, especially when Milwaukee and Sam talk about food preferences, seems quite genuine. Although I'm a vegetarian, I had to laugh out loud when Sam said she couldn't stand to eat plants. Her favorite food? "Meat so shiny you can see yourself in it."

Sam helps Milwaukee realize that, contrary to Eugene O'Neill, "You can go home again." After all, didn't Dorothy Gale prove "there's no place like home" in The Wizard of Oz?

For the life of me, I can't understand why Chump Change never received a nationwide release. Granted, I'm a sucker for movies about making movies. My favorite one, of course, is Singin' in the Rain, but, hey, I even liked America's Sweethearts. Still, other people agree with me about Chump Change. Film festival audiences love it. At the 2001 Phoenix Film Festival, this movie won the Audience Award, the Best Screenplay Award and the Best Picture Award. That same year, it earned the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival Audience Award for Best Feature, and Traci Elizabeth Lords was named Best Actress.

Happily, Miramax Home Entertainment is presenting Chump Change on VHS/DVD beginning January 20, 2004.The DVD bonus features include deleted scenes, commentary by Stephen Burrows, outtakes, focus group "lo-lights," and a conversation with Traci Elizabeth Lords. Check it out!

(Released by Miramax and rated "R" for language and some sexual humor; bonus DVD features not rated.)

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