Dawn Of The Dead Movie Star

With stars no longr scoring hits, Hollywood is spending its money elsewhere these days. Paul Byrne gives the last rites to Cruise, Crowe and co.


Right now, Hollywood is full of zombies.

Or, to be more precise, dead movie stars. Stiffs such as Nicole Kidman. And Jennifer Lopez. Tom Cruise and Halle Berry. And Russell Crowe, Demi Moore, Sharon Stone and our own Colin Farrell. To name but a few.

Their only true worth now being in the tabloids rather than the mulitplexes. Sure, any of the above can still make the cover of a major magazine, but put their pusses on a movie poster, and cinema-goers invariably stay away in their millions. That’s why you’ll see so many of these poor, glamourous, jet-setting souls flogging shampoos, beers and perfumes these days. It’s not like Heat magazine are going to chip in for the gardener.

In fact, were you to wonder what it is exactly that went wrong with the Oscar-winning Nicole Kidman’s career, you will find it in those few second during the $42m Baz Luhrmann-directed Chanel No.5 TV commercial, when the porcelain princess flings herself across a New York rooftop with the immortal line, “I love to donce!”. As if Nicole Kidman ever ‘donces’. And if the woman who treated Cold Mountain as an Oxfam winter range shoot ever did get the urge to get down and boogie, she no doubt has people who do all her doncing for her.

Others – like our beloved Colin – take the slightly higher road of making small, independent movies, clocking in as a character actor until one of those little low-budget arthouse offerings scores them enough box-office to move back up into the Premier League.

Only trouble is, Hollywood’s Premier League has pretty much been abolished. The last man standing is Will Smith, but even the all-grinning, all-gurning, all-conquering box-office prince isn’t smelling so fresh these days. His last outing, Seven Pounds, was Smith’s first major flop in ten years, when the golfing drama dud The Legend Of Bagger Vance almost derailed his career completely. Coming, as it did, after the hugely unsuccessful Wild Wild West. Next up for Smith? Men In Black 3. Which is an anagram of Holy Crap! My Career Is So Screwed Right Now. 3.

In the past, stars came and went; today, they’re simply a dying breed. Hollywood recently shifted away from the star vehicle – those big-budget movies where a large chunk of the budget and the profits would go to the leading player – in favour of the far more cost effective method of employing relative unknowns, and spending all that lovely moolah on silly things like scripts, special effects, branding and marketing.

Look at the big movies last year – Avatar, The Hangover, Star Trek, Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen, New Moon, Up, Alvin And The Chipmunks: The Squeakquel; not too many major stars sucking up the budget there, but they all scored some of the year’s biggest box-office grosses.

When it came to Avatar, it would have been easy for James Cameron to cast his leading couple with just about any Hollywood stars you could care to mention, but the man who has now scored the top grossing movie of all time twice in the last two decades knows that it’s story first, spectacle second.

And stars? Oh, about fourth, maybe even fifth these days.

That’s not to say that some of these leading lights wouldn’t be in trouble without Hollywood’s new way of thinking and financing.

Jennifer Lopez has long been on a hiding to nowhere, struggling through bad movie choices, lacklustre albums and a growing reputation for being difficult to be around. Even the traditional diva move of getting married and becoming a mum wasn’t enough to soften the growing dislike the once enthralled public once felt for Ms. Lopez.

Her record label, Sony, recently dropped the artist formerly known as J-Lo (maybe they should release a retrospective, called Jenny On The Chopping Block?), and her most recent cinematic offering, this week’s The Back-up Plan, is every bit as exciting and inviting as 2005’s An Unfinished Life. Or 2006’s Bordertown. Or her last offering, El Cantante.

Having lived by the tabloids – especially during her engagement to Ben Affleck – Jennifer Lopez’s career has now died by the hand of the tabloids too. Runaway groom Affleck is still clawing his way out of the wreckage too.

Next week, another fallen box-office angel, Russell Crowe, makes his most concerted effort yet to get back on the horse – literally and figuratively – with Robin Hood, the cranky Kiwi reuniting with his Gladiator director, Ridley Scott.

The public having finally caught up with the media when it comes to Finding Russell Crowe A Boorish Arse, the Oscar-winning grump has now become box-office poison. Worthy, smart movies such as State Of Play, Body Of Lies and A Good Year have all crashed and burned at the box-office – and, it could be argued, it’s all Crowe’s fault.

Sticking to his method guns, in recent years, Crowe has gone from changing his physical appearance to suit each individual role to turning each individual character he’s playing into a slovenly, overweight, pigheaded twat. Smart, time-saving move.

Having once been hailed as cinema’s new great white hope – thanks to early, incendiary performances in the likes of 1992’s Romper Stomper and 97’s L.A. Confidential – 2000’s Gladiator made Crowe one of the biggest stars in the world. Unfortunately, he soon proved himself to be one of the biggest assholes in the world too, as his off-camera scowls and scuffles started to overshadow his on-screen performances. A 2005 court case followed a phone-flinging assault on a New York hotel porter, the negative publicity coinciding with the box-office nosedive of Crowe’s last truly great film, Cinderella Man.

From there, it’s been downhill all the way. And the so-so Robin Hood – basically Gladiator In Tights, only not half as good as that sounds – doesn’t look like altering that particular trajectory.

Tom Cruise is another former box-office champ with a seemingly impossible comeback fight on his hands, Hollywood’s one-time leading leading man having become the butt of a seemingly never-ending joke ever since his couch-surfing, raving heterosexual turn on The Oprah Winfrey Show back on May 23rd, 2005. With one wheel clearly wobbling, and his longtime publicist suddenly fired, Cruise promptly lost control, spouting on about the joys of Scientology, the evils of psychiatry and prescription drugs, and how he’s just a regular, motorbikin’ guy who loves to do wheelies up red carpets.

The man has had nothing but flops for the last five years, and so there’s another Mission: Impossible now in the works. Hey, maybe the plot’s going to be all about his comeback struggles?

All these multi-billionaire losers can take some comfort in Sandra Bullock’s recent career resurrection, the double-whammy of The Proposal and her Oscar-winning turn in The Blind Side arriving late in a career that seemed to be well past its sell-by date. I’m guessing she might just miss those innocent, under-the-radar days right now.

Or what about Mickey Rourke’s miraculous rebirth, after 15 years in the wilderness, reduced to living in a cheap apartment with only a shopping trolley for transport – that’s got to give the likes of Cruise, Crowe, Kidman, Lopez and the gang a glimmer of hope.

Just to make that comeback all the more spectacular though, I really think they should each go for 20 years in the wilderness. Without a phone. Or a publicist. Or a camera crew.

Then we’d be really impressed.

Words – Paul Byrne

The Back-up Plan is now showing in Irish cinemas

Robin Hood arrives on May 14th