There is a change of tone in Washington, or the pretext of one, and perhaps it can account for the hardball mudslinging that has upped and relocated to America’s second slimiest city. You needn’t be a Page Six junkie to see that Hollywood actors are dumping on their own movies—which, while implying that candor is the hottest fad in town since Scientology, spells danger for the industry, particularly when the stars maneuver their disappointment into the editing room. Or when they become their own sorry apologists—as in the case of Mel Gibson, who called The Million Dollar Hotel “boring as a dog’s ass,” then later spun the quote by asking what the definition of “as” is.
Gibson is no stranger to foot-in-mouth disease—though he’s improved his vocabulary since 1984, when he told People that Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome was “a piece of shit.” Bugged that his character in Payback was unlikable, he sabotaged director Brian Helgeland’s cut of the film in a manner that would have made Alan Smithee roll in his grave. According to rumor, Gibson had a hairdresser call “action” and “cut” during the extensive reshoots, so as not to disrespect Helgeland by directing them himself.
Kevin Costner bad-mouthed For Love of the Game after a shot of his penis was cut when test audiences giggled uncontrollably at it. Worse, after a rivalry with Kurt Russell over whose edit of 3000 Miles to Graceland was better (Demian Lichtenstein, the director, was irrelevant), Costner’s version won out. Warren Beatty, smelling Ishtar in the air, distanced himself from Town and County amid speculation that his megalomaniacal demands for reshoots were responsible for its foreseeable doom. Oscar-crowned directors all, Gibson, Costner, and Beatty have helmed a total of three movies since their wins. Why bother to direct when you can negotiate the final cut?
But carping is not limited to crusty old leading men. About the only thing Samuel L. Jackson could dig about Shaft was himself, lambasting director John Singleton, producer Scott Rudin, and screenwriter Richard Price with badass vigor. “I know better than they do what works for Sam Jackson,” he opined. Still, he was less flustered than song-stressed Björk—Stanislavsky’s worst nightmare—who went as far as to insist that Dancer in the Dark auteur Lars von Trier was her executioner. In another civil war, Gary Oldman, the younger generation’s Charlton Heston, smeared The Contender, alleging that DreamWorks (specifically SKG and their housebroken pet Rod Lurie) perverted his conservative congressman in an effort to promote its pre-election agitprop. Presumably tipsy from Bush’s victory, he ate crow on Charlie Rose—a spectacle as discombobulating as The Contender‘s “For Our Daughters” epigraph.
Meanwhile, Senator Orrin Hatch unpacked his righteous indignation on Traffic, in which he appears as himself. “They said it was going to be PG-13,” he told Chris Matthews, “but it turned out to be a hard R.” Reminiscent of Sharon Stone’s contention that Basic Instinct director Paul Verhoeven had tricked her into revealing something to Michael Douglas, the overzealous griping indeed suggests that maybe the senator, long a critic of Hollywood, has finally found his inner diva.