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Reeling in "The Martini Shot"

By Sam Jemielity

AUGUST 31, 1998:  Arnie and Sly take note: There are few things sadder, or funnier, than an action hero in the twilight of his career. In "The Martini Shot," Peter Craig's comic dissection of behind-the-scenes Hollywood, Charlie West is a declining big-screen idol who can't get into a car crash without having to give an autograph. His box-office grosses are in free-fall, the press yawns during his junkets, he's taken to jamming tiny rectangular reading glasses on his "broad pink face." When a critic carps about West's movies' "excessive violence, their basic disregard for human life, their misogyny, their condoning of smoking, drinking, promiscuity and heavy artillery," all Charlie can offer up in his defense is his work for animal rights. But he fears the truth: "I think my old life is coming back to bite me in the ass." Behind the over-made-up action hero lurks the grimmer aspects of Hollywood glam-a dysfunctional family, unchecked substance abuse, a trophy wife who drinks Fresca-which debut novelist Craig paints in lightly sardonic strokes. Charlie spins drunkenly in the middle of a circle of variously self-possessed, cynical, congenial, funny characters: Ava, West's amiably sharp-tongued single-mom daughter; his MG-driving ex-wife, Camilla, an aging C-list actress/waitress who stills dresses "like a Bond extra"; Barbara, the star's personal trainer and new wife; Sadie Ravendahl, the small-town teen who has a fling with a boozy West at a rehab clinic in the Washington State sticks-"Go back to your audience," she says when the affair ends, "Your retarded fans probably miss you"; and 18-year-old Matt Ravendahl, offspring of that brief liaison. Matt seeks to reunite with Charlie and Ava just as his comeback movie, "Born Ready," threatens to die prematurely at the box office. Matt's quest, to some extent, drives the plot, but "The Martini Shot"-the name derives from Hollywood slang for the wrap shot of a movie-is a bona fide character-driven novel. Unlike the population of most page-turners and too much so-called "literary" fiction these days, Craig's characters speak in the refreshingly funny, sarcastic, cutting patter of people you'd actually want to spend more than ten seconds with.

"The Martini Shot"
Peter Craig
Morrow, 273 pages, $22

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