MTV stars discover still more visibility on the big screen

April 26, 1993|By Bob Strauss | Bob Strauss,Los Angeles Daily News

Los Angeles -- The call letters MTV might as well stand for Movie Training Venue.

"Yo! MTV Raps" hosts Dr. Dre and Ed Lover are starring in "Who's the Man?" -- the new feature film directed by "Raps" producer Ted Demme. The hip-hop cop comedy also features MTV personalities Denis Leary and Colin Quinn, along with cameo appearances by dozens of the rap music stars whose clips regularly run on Dre and Ed's show.

Mr. Leary, the chain-smoking star of the cable network's promotional spots, also has a small role in the current kids' movie "The Sandlot" and will star in Mr. Demme's new feature, "The Ref," as a hapless burglar who takes a dysfunctional family hostage.

Meanwhile, MTV comic Pauly Shore co-starred in one of last summer's most profitable films, "Encino Man," and hits theaters again in July as "The Son-in-Law."

MTV rock reporter Tabitha Soren has landed a correspondent gig on "The Today Show," and the network's music historian, Kurt Loder, will see the Tina Turner biography he co-authored transferred to movie screens this summer. VJ Karen "Duff" Duffy -- who also has a cameo in "Who's the Man?" -- and "MTV Sports" host Dan Cortese can be seen in the Sylvester Stallone-Wesley Snipes action film "Demolition Man" and will appear in NBC's revival of "Route 66" this summer.

Not since the late-'70s-early-'80s heyday of "Saturday Night Live" and "SCTV" have so many personalities sprung from a televised source into other venues.

"I would like to think that MTV can be a true, influential launching pad like 'Saturday Night Live' has been," said Doug Herzog, MTV's senior vice president for programming. "They're not the same. John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd came out of a sketch-comedy format, while Ed and Dre are hosts of a music-and-lifestyle program. But what they share is that they are hip, cutting edge, leading edge."

"If used properly, MTV is a great vehicle for talent, and not only musical talent," said Mr. Demme, who directed numerous rap videos and Mr. Leary's Showtime cable network special "No Cure for Cancer" before the release of his See MTV, first feature, "Man?"

"Over the last five years, [MTV] has found some personalities and developed others who have become big in this niche of pop culture. I put Ed and Dre together 4 1/2 years ago. . . . I think every kid who watches MTV knows who they are now."

Dre, nee Andre Brown, was a songwriter and disc jockey before his TV exposure; Mr. Lover was a high school friend of Mr. Demme's from Long Island, N.Y.

Beamed worldwide, 24 hours a day, MTV has a potential youth demographic audience that greatly exceeds those of the late-night "SNL" and syndicated "SCTV" at their height of popularity. The network personalities' box-office possibilities are, therefore, huge. And MTV, at least for the moment, is more than willing to help its performers widen their audience.

"We think it's great," Mr. Herzog said of "Man?" "We've been extremely supportive, gave Ed and Dre time [off] to make the movie, did a show on the set, ran a lot of promotions. We did the same for 'Encino Man' last year. We feel that if these guys can become bigger stars through movies, that's great for what they do on MTV."

But, no matter how much help one gets, making the move to film stardom from television success has never been easy. Dre, for one, realizes that different rules apply to the different medium.

"We were always at the writers' meetings," said the chubbier half this Abbott and Costello-like team. "We demanded that 'Who's the Man?' had a good story, with a beginning, middle and end and a strong plot. Then the gags were worked into that framework, rather than dreaming up the gags first and building a story around them. Story is the most important part of any film we do."

Indeed, "Man?" plays like a straightforward mystery-comedy with some music; compare that to the recent rap satire "CB4" dreamed up by "SNL's" Chris Rock that copied the incoherent, fast-blast style of, well, MTV.

Mr. Demme, whose uncle and "film guru," Jonathan Demme, directed the Oscar-winning "Silence of the Lambs," is adamant about keeping movies with MTV stars distinct from the highly influential look of MTV itself.

"I want to make films that have some substance to them," Mr. Demme said, "not just one-note films for the No Attention Span Theater. And that's important to Ed and Dre and Denis; these guys don't want to just come and go, cash in on one film. They want to make careers for themselves, like I do."

"The goal is to create movies that you can sit down and work on," added Dre. "A film is not a video. We're assuming that there's an audience out there that does want to pay attention to a plot."

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