All-star casts on the horizon again
By Susan Wloszczyna
It's a mad, mad, mad, mad way to cast a movie.
There's a revival of a gimmick most famously used in 1963s "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World," a three-hour-plus showcase of top bananas: Fill 'er up with famous faces.
"There are two categories of these films," movie critic Leonard Maltin says. "There are ensembles, with many people sharing the weight of carrying the movie, such as films by Paul Thomas Anderson ("Boogie Nights") or Robert Altman ("Nashville"). Then there is stunt casting like "Mad Mad World."
In that case, it's a cavalcade of vignettes."
Developing the personality of an all-star movie is sort of like setting the mood at cocktail parties. Everything depends on the guest list.
"Rat Race," not out until Aug. 3 but already creating buzz at early screenings, takes the "Hollywood Squares" approach to casting.
In the "Mad Mad"-style farce directed by Jerry Zucker ("Airplane!"), a bunch of mid-level though recognizable comic types such as Seth Green, Wayne Knight, Jon Lovitz, Kathy Najimy and Rowan Atkinson engage in a Las Vegas-to-New Mexico race for $2 million in cash. Bookending the lineup are two Academy Award winners, Whoopi Goldberg and Cuba Gooding Jr.
Zucker, who directed Goldberg to an Oscar in "Ghost," says he intentionally didn't go after the $20 million salary names, even if they would have taken a deep pay cut. "You can't empathize with their characters as underdogs. It plays more real this way."
Maverick filmmaker Kevin Smith ("Clerks," "Chasing Amy") has found a way to take the "Mad Mad" concept and re-imagine it as a self-tribute. Call it the Friars Roast method of casting. In "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back," out Aug. 24, the title characters, played by Jason Mewes and Smith, sue a studio that is ripping off their comic books.
In what is essentially a road-trip flick, Jay and Silent Bob run into actors either in cameos or playing characters from other Smith releases. The list is a large one, including Ben Affleck and Jason Lee in dual roles, as well as Matt Damon, George Carlin, Carrie Fisher, Judd Nelson, Chris Rock, Mark Hamill and Alanis Morissette, reprising her God from "Dogma."
In "Big Trouble," directed by Barry Sonnenfeld ("Men in Black") and due Sept. 21, an eclectic array of talent ranging from Tim Allen and Rene Russo to Heavy D and Johnny Knoxville (the guy from MTV's "Jackass") goes after a suitcase that ends up at the Miami airport.
Says Sonnenfeld, who had to juggle 16 principal performers: "The trouble is, none of the actors think they are making a contribution, when in reality they are all stars. It's hard to convince them they are important or that they should learn their lines."
In the remake of the 1960 heist comedy "Ocean's Eleven," opening in December, director Steven Soderbergh replaces the Rat Pack with a four-pack of A-listers: George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon. Providing support are Andy Garcia, Don Cheadle, Scott Caan, Elliott Gould and Bill Murray.
Earlier this year, Clooney cracked that he and his co-stars joined together to help out the Oscar-winning helmsman of "Traffic" and "Erin Brockovich" because "he really needs a hit." He may have been kidding, but Maltin says don't sell loyalty short when it comes to attracting stars to such projects.
"If you are a director with a good reputation, and you offer an actor a juicy part though not a starring role, you have a good shot."
The all-star tradition, which began in the days of the studio system with such '30s classics as "Grand Hotel" and "Dinner at Eight" and carried on in "Around the World in Eighty Days" (1956) and "The Towering Inferno" (1974), has several benefits for the parties involved.
Says Maltin: "Smart actors know that if such a film tanks, they won't be blamed if they are part of an ensemble. And there's not a huge commitment of time. You're in for a week or two and then out."
Sonnenfeld notes one drawback. "These films are harder to sell to the public because they don't see that one movie star. It's harder to define what it is." There is a compensating factor for him: "I got to work with a lot of great actors."