In 2009, Academy Award winners Kevin Spacey and Sam Mendes spearheaded the Bridge Project, which brought together British and American actors for five plays that crisscrossed the globe. The three-year venture culminated with "Richard III," with Spacey playing the conniving hunchback king, and the production was, by all accounts, dazzling.
"NOW: In the Wings on a World Stage" examines the process of producing the hit show, offering a few insidery tidbits that theater fans will appreciate. But mostly the documentary comes across as marketing material for a now-defunct project.
Spacey and first-time director Jeremy Whelehan produced the film, which explains the documentary's relentlessly positive outlook. Most of the interviews with cast members feature unequivocal gushing about Mendes, acting, co-stars and the chance to travel the world with such a talented yet down-to-earth guy as Spacey. The actors also heap praise on the mission of the Bridge Project, which verges on comical when you think about it. Getting Brits to work with Americans has its benefits, but it hardly attains the significance of getting Jewish Israeli actors to co-star with Palestinians, for example.
The film follows the familiar routine of recent concert documentaries, intercutting behind-the-scenes moments with snippets of performances. We see the laborious process of mounting the traveling show on stages in Istanbul, Beijing and Doha, Qatar, as well as an ancient amphitheater in Epidaurus, Greece. Meanwhile, the cast is out driving through sand dunes, wandering along the Great Wall or taking a luxurious cruise on Spacey's dime. ("I need to get more rich friends," says co-star Jeremy Bobb, a consistently funny and foul-mouthed interviewee.)
Some of these moments are fun or sweet, but few are enlightening. The great Gemma Jones has some insights about acting, but none are so memorable as when she says of co-star Isaiah Johnson: "I'd like to see him without his clothes on."
Similar to a concert doc, "Now" has a somewhat niche appeal. But unlike "Katy Perry: Part of Me" or "One Direction: This Is Us," the chronicle of "Richard III" can never really deliver the goods. With concert documentaries, big-time fans see their favorite musician perform renditions of beloved tunes. But seeing bits of Spacey's performance can only make theater-loving moviegoers wish they could see more.
The film serves as an effective marketing tool after all, with some lively footage and funny interviews. It's just too bad viewers can't see the actual play.
"NOW: In the Wings on a World Stage" - 2 1/2 stars
No MPAA rating
Running time: 1:33
Plays: Through Thursday at the Siskel Film Center; also available via download at NowTheFilm.com.