I am only giving this film a "5" out of respect for it's cast headed by Walter Matthau, Charles Grodin, Steve Martin, Bill Macy, Tyne Daly, Gilda Radner, Penny Marshall, and Vincent Gardenia. Otherwise it is a peculiar satire on Hollywood that never quite works.
Walter Matthau works at a large studio, now run by William Prince. Matthau is a successful producer there, but his mentor was Gardenia, who was once a great producer. But Gardenia has been going downhill, both creatively and physically. He has wasted millions of dollars on a film about the prehistoric world, and has even set up a huge dinosaur from the film on the grounds of the studio (much to a fed up Prince's anger). But Gardenia is taken off all other projects. He is now dying, and Matthau goes to see him. Gardenia, on the death bed, forces Matthau to do a film on a book he has just bought: a sexual guidebook. Matthau says he will, knowing it is a ridiculous promise.
After Gardenia's death Matthau takes a close look into the sex book. This is the most popular sex guide in America, but the point is brought out in the film that if one thinks of sex lightly, as a powerful explosion from the emotion of love, it is easy to show in film, on stage, on television, on radio, in novels and short stories, or in paintings and sculpture. But if the actual physical activities involved were to be studied in a film (not a pornography film, by the way), it becomes boring.
Still Matthau tries. He consults with Macy, a fabled film director (involved in a torrid and complicated affair with Radner - it ends when they wound each other in a shoot out). Macy's approach is to remind us of all the great film lovers of the past (Bogart among them) and how "dependable" they were. Matthau talks to Grodin, a leading screenplay writer. Grodin can't see where the drama needed for the film will come in. Matthau is advised to see the last of the great silent film lovers, the "ageless" Martin (once a rival of Valentino). He keeps talking of decades old romantic moments - but all is for naught when Matthau and Grodin and Macy see Martin is now henpecked by his harridan wife (Marshall).
As you can see the film certainly had great direction in the script, except that despite the energy of the cast it just never rose above the one point: that discussing the physical activity of sex on film is not going to make a good movie. Somehow the script dropped a somewhat promising element: that a desperate Matthau might start dropping away from what Gardenia wished and produced a film that was a sex comedy. But for that to have fully worked, Gardenia's wacko character would have had to be alive throughout the film, and he would have had to keep the sense of taking the credit for the success of Matthau's changing the production plan to save the project. That never happens.
I think the film tried to be philosophical but never got beyond presenting the main argument. It was a poor choice to make. MOVERS & SHAKERS may never have been a promisingly great film, but it might have been an amusing one. It is not too amusing now. Definitely not worthy of it's cast's energies at all.
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