Movie producer Robert Evans preserves his golden myth in The Kid Stays in the Picture.

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Movie producer Robert Evans preserves his golden myth in The Kid Stays in the Picture.

Robert Evans wrote his autobiography in 1994 as much out of desperation as hubris. It cried out, "Damn it, look at me . . . please?" He'd produced one film during the previous 10 years -- The Cotton Club, a colossal failure. It was to have been his crowning achievement -- Evans's debut as director after so many years as actor and studio head and producer. Instead, Francis Ford Coppola finagled his way behind the camera. Evans, the big swinging dick in a town of cock-teases, was emasculated.

By 1994, those who remembered Evans as the man who saved Paramount Studios for Gulf + Western and as the power broker who was in large part responsible for the likes of Rosemary's Baby, The Godfather, Love Story, and Chinatown, had either died, divorced him (Evans was married five times, once for 10 days), or chosen to pretend that he never existed at all. For his part, all he had left were old pics of him with Jack Nicholson and Ali McGraw (his ex-missus, lost to Steve McQueen when he and Ali made a fast Getaway in El Paso), Henry Kissinger and Francis Coppola.

Now, eight years later, comes the big-screen adaptation of The Kid Stays in the Picture, in which the unseen but always heard Evans, schmatte peddler-cum-actor-cum-studio boss-cum-coke fiend-cum-comeback kid, talks for some 93 minutes about how charmed his life is/was/is again, how thick (and brown) his skin is/was/is again, how great his films were/are/will be again. It's either the world's greatest infomercial for fame (and its omnipresent companion, notoriety) or the saddest eulogy of all -- not for Evans, necessarily, but for the movies themselves. At the very least, it mourns the glamour biz, the dream factory that found Evans, in 1956, jumping into the Beverly Hills Hotel pool a seller of ladies' slacks and emerging from the drink a soaking wet would-be movie star.

The Kid Stays in the Picture plays like a feature-length Vanity Fair profile; appropriate, as VF Editor Graydon Carter is the producer. It's heavy on glitz and glam, steeped in sleaze and decadence, in love with not only its subject but the telling of his dissolute tale.

Evans himself never appears onscreen. To reveal a glimpse of the mortal old man, instead of the lithe immortal preserved in those photos, would devastate the illusion, destroy the myth. Evans wants to be remembered not for scandal and ruin, or even for having survived it all, but for having screwed the best (McGraw, Grace Kelly, Lana Turner, Raquel Welch -- the list is as long as his book), befriended the baddest (Nicholson, Warren Beatty, Dustin Hoffman -- the latter makes a brilliant "cameo" as end credits roll), and made the biggest movies of his day.

The movies Evans has produced of late have been disastrous enough to tarnish the legend: Jade, Sliver, The Phantom, The Saint, The Out-of-Towners. Why, Evans must be thinking, bother selling someone else's shit when you can peddle your own? His story is the world's best pitch, populated by the world's best-known celebrities. If it's not a ready-made blockbuster, well, it's not because Bob Evans didn't sell his soul to make it so.

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