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Jake Gyllenhaal's ride to nowhere?

Wednesday, Jul 26 2006

A Ride To Nowhere?

Jake Gyllenhaal is the “it” guy of moviedom right now. Every time a new project is developed, his name comes up in the casting discussion, whether it’s for a 300-pound sumo wrestler, or a one-legged midget. He’s always been known for cherry-picking his parts (Jarhead especially comes to mind), so that’s why it’s bewildering that, with all these juicy roles being offered, Gyllenhaal wants to play Lance Armstrong in a Sony biopic of the seven-time Tour de France winner. The two were hanging at the TdF together all weekend as part of Jake’s getting-to-know-you method process. The pairing even threatened to eclipse the press coverage of the 2006 TdF winner, that other American, Floyd Landis. Gyllenhaal joined Armstrong in the Discovery team car for a ride-along during Saturday’s all-important individual time trial. The next day, Jake and Lance sat in a Paris hotel and watched Landis tour the Champs Élysées with yellow jersey intact, then receive his trophy.

Turns out the Oscar-nominated costar of Brokeback Mountain is a longtime cyclist and has already begun training for the film. Though one man is dark and the other fair, there’s little doubt that when the makeup artists are done, Jake and Lance will look like twins. Sure, an Armstrong biopic is a natural. So why did it take Hollywood so long to put one together? Well, producer Bill Gerber tried to sell it years ago, after reading Armstrong’s book It’s Not About the Bike. But Warner Bros. and HBO passed. Then producers Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy got lucky that Columbia Pictures production honcho Matt Tolmach is a cycling fanatic. I hear he can actually do some of those Tour de France–type climbs — though not as fast.

Given Armstrong’s unhappy youth, his sports prowess (first as a triathlete and then as a cyclist), his battle with cancer, his Live Strong yellow-wristband campaign, his cancer-foundation work, his epic TdF rides, his rivalry with cocky Jan Ullrich and upstart Ivan Basso, his love-hate relationship with the French, and his battle against doping accusations, it’s a heckuva tale. But what kind of role is it? The record shows that sports biopics get ignored at Oscar time. (Unlike, say, Nicolas Cage signing on to play Liberace. No, I’m not kidding.) Jake needs to keep his eye on Golden Boy — the statuette, not the cyclist.

Their Big Fat Hollywood Failures

It’s surprising but not exactly unexpected that three big film directors crashed and burned at the box office this weekend. M. Night Shyamalan’s Lady in the Water, Ivan Reitman’s My Super Ex-Girlfriend and Kevin Smith’s Clerks II all bombed badly with moviegoers. It’s not that the budgets were necessarily outsize — in fact, Clerks II was cheap at $5 million — but by the time you factor in the insanely high marketing costs (averaging $36 million), the movies should have gone straight to video if they couldn’t muster at least $20 million openings at the box office.

Lady in the Water made just $17.5 million; Clerks II dropped 20 percent Saturday from Friday, so it barely made $10 million for the weekend; and Super Ex finished with a paltry $8.5 million.

So, why such failure? Blame it on the arrogance that typically, and unfortunately, follows Hollywood success. All three directors — Shyamalan, Reitman and Smith — have experienced the best of the box office in their past: great reviews, great grosses, great wealth. That’s when the disconnect comes.

Although then Disney movie exec Nina Jacobson told Shyamalan that his Lady had problems even at the script stage and that’s why she wouldn’t green-light it; he refused to listen (and later even trashed her for it). Even though Reitman is one of the richest directors around and has little in common with the young guys who are his target audience, he keeps making one bad movie after another. (Shouldn’t he be counting his gazillions?) Even though Smith was once lauded as the Hollywood rebel, he is so much the Hollywood insider these days he does TV shtick on Leno. Smith even sank so low as to try to score PR mileage out of film critic Joel Siegel’s childish walk-out during a screening of Clerks II. Not even a cheezy promotion between The Weinstein Co. and MySpace could help Smith’s film. The first 10,000 people who linked to a designated page would be permanently added to the ending credits. I bet the guilds were thrilled.

Meanwhile, Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Man’s Chest, a dreadful film saved only by Johnny Depp,pilfered $35.5 million to safely occupy No. 1 for another weekend. After just 17 days, the sequel has taken in $321.7 million and surpassed the total take of the original.

The Sons (Unfortunately) Also Rise

Think about it: Scion of Big Media mogul tells Dad about this great British show that would do well in America. The result is American Idol, which saves not only the network’s butt but also her father’s bottom line. Isn’t that worth a big promotion? Not in Murdoch land.

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