When big names make bad movies

August 19, 1994|By Philip Wuntch | Philip Wuntch,Dallas Morning News

Nothing's more public than a show business flop.

"Every newspaper in the country prints those weekend box-office figures," Bruce Willis said earlier this year. "I was getting groceries right after 'Hudson Hawk' opened, and the checker said, 'Jeez, I'm sorry your movie didn't even do $10 million.' "

As Mr. Willis sadly learned, there's no sound louder than a holiday thud. And in Hollywood, summertime is the biggest holiday of all. The period between Memorial Day and Labor Day either congeals into a megabucks celebration or disintegrates into a disastrous blob. And it can make or break a career (at least until next summer).

Although a probable record-breaker at the box office, this summer has brought entire constellations of Hollywood stars crashing back to reality. A year ago, no stars shone brighter than Kevin Costner, Julia Roberts and Macaulay Culkin. Today, these three -- and a handful of their compadres -- might have to crash into Jupiter to get the full attention of Tinseltown's telescopes.

* Kevin Costner: The casual, likable chap who wooed audiences in "Bull Durham" and "Field of Dreams" was nowhere to be found in "Wyatt Earp." Mr. Costner's to be commended for trying to stretch his range, but he should have learned from "A Perfect World" that moviegoers like his boyish smile better than his scowl.

* Eddie Murphy: He practically begged viewers to see "Beverly Hills Cop III," with its mellow Axel Foley. But audiences didn't want to see Eddie beg or Axel chill. Will Mr. Murphy's planned remake of Jerry Lewis' "Nutty Professor" be a career balm -- or bomb?

* Julia Roberts: No matter how her movies do, she'll always make a People magazine cover. Two summers ago, she had her first big disappointment with "Dying Young." She rebounded last December with the $100-million grossing "The Pelican Brief." But "I Love Trouble" is her lowest grosser since the independent "Mystic Pizza." Ms. Roberts escaped with a slap on the wrist. The most painful kick went to her co-star . . .

* Nick Nolte: OK, when was the last time this guy sold a movie? The centerpiece of "48 HRS." was Prince Eddie, and "Down and Out in Beverly Hills" was an ensemble piece. He's had three flops this year: "I'll Do Anything," "Blue Chips" and "I Love Trouble." Not good for someone once pegged as "the new Redford."

* Billy Crystal: Has the public had its feel of this preening comic? After all those interviews in which he insisted "City Slickers II" was not really a sequel, people began to wonder if he simply had played himself in the flop "Mr. Saturday Night."

* Macaulay Culkin: Fran Lebowitz once wrote that she usually likes kids, except that all too often they're accompanied by their parents. Everyone liked Mac at first. Then, after we read nasty things about poppa Kit, everyone liked Mac on a different level, one that was tinged with sympathy. But after "Getting Even With Dad," it was easy to dislike both father and son.

* Danny DeVito: He hit rock bottom as a director with "Hoffa," went nowhere as a troubled dad in "Jack the Bear" and marched to the cliches in this summer's "Renaissance Man." A return to supporting roles is clearly in order, if his ego allows it.

* Alec Baldwin: The oldest Baldwin has flirted with stardom for years. His one major hit, "The Hunt for Red October," was attributed to Sean Connery's presence. "The Shadow" was to be his breakthrough, but he was lost among the special effects and art deco touches.

Not all news was disheartening for Hollywood royalty. There were several fresh candidates for the cinematic heavens, while others reclaimed their thrones.

* Tom Hanks: A megastar after "Philadelphia" and "Sleepless in Seattle," an uberstar after "Forrest Gump." Will he win two Oscars in a row? What if his next movie, the space odyssey "Apollo 13," flames out during re-entry? He'll just remind himself that he survived "The Bonfire of the Vanities."

* Robin Wright: In "Forrest Gump," she brings humanity to a role that could have seemed cold and manipulative. She turned down "Batman Forever" back in the days when Michael Keaton was still attached to it. She's not a fan of mainstream moviemaking, but "Forrest" forged beyond the mainstream.

* Jim Carrey: "The Mask" is what some insiders hoped "The Shadow" would be. "Batman Forever" is a good career move. With co-stars like Tommy Lee Jones and Val Kilmer, he'll just be part of the ensemble, and audiences won't feel he's forcing himself on us.

* Keanu Reeves: Some critics felt that "Speed" sped to financial glory despite his performance, not because of it. But there's no denying that he made lots of new friends in the praised action flick.

* Sandra Bullock: As "Speed's" reluctant driver, she was the character the audience could relate to. And the role allowed her to display both her warmth and her grittiness. After some false starts ("The Vanishing," "Wrestling Ernest Hemingway"), she's clearly on her way.

* Elijah Wood: Little Elijah starred in one of the year's biggest fiascoes, "North." But take a close look at those reviews. Almost every critic offered apologies to Elijah and said he was better than the movie. And the buzz is strong for his November release, "The War."

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