By David Hunter
Chronicling the rise and fall and rise again of actor-writer and Hollywood hopeful Milwaukee Steve, “Chump Change” is not only a one-man party created by writer/director/lead actor Stephen Burrows, who has several television credits and was a member of the Groundlings. Burrows’ debut feature is also a fast-paced satire of the movie business, with an emphasis on “development hell,” and boasts a fun cast, lots of snappy lines and a central romance with participants one unbegrudgingly roots for.
Alas, “Chump” is also the latest in a steady stream of projects that speak successfully to few people. While the gags about agents, producers and studio executives are often on the mark and the inside references tickled the industry crowd at its premiere, “Chump” will earn only small change in the wide world, where such higher profile releases with big stars as “An Alan Smithee Film – Burn Hollywood Burn” and “The Muse” have failed to catch on in a big way.
As a calling card, “Chump” is a winner for Burrows and Traci Elizabeth Lords. She plays the nice girl, Sam, waiting for Steve in his family’s house as a surprise boarder when he seeks relief from career pressures and takes a trip home. It’s winter, but the pair goes out for a walk, and he tells of his ups and downs in Tinseltown, starting with making a commercial for “Crotch Fresh” that brought him a little fortune and a lot of ribbing from the world in general.
From crazy audition sequences to multiple interviews in search of an agent and manager, Steve somehow gets started and lands a meeting with the unbearably hyper, movie-dumb producer Simon “Sez” Simone (Tim Matheson). Simon knows he has heard a good idea when his “penis starts twitching,” and he hires Steve to write an “action sex comedy.” Steve gives it his best shot, but the first of many early morning calls from Simon results in a seesaw battle between Milwaukee’s wavering motivation to do good work and Hollywood’s bullying schizophrenia.
Fred Willard, Jerry Stiller, Anne Meara, Abe Vigoda and Roger Clinton appear in cameo roles. As a 13-year-old studio big shot, Theo Greenly makes a good joke better, while Amy Stiller performs the same function as a momentary rival for Sam with a ravenously provincial attitude in the Wisconsin scenes.
Burrows is a dynamo of a performer, a frequently witty writer and no slouch as a director.