How Much Longer Will the Academy Tolerate Brett Ratner? [UPDATED]
It's been a rough week for Brett Ratner, whose big, ostensibly crowd-pleasing ensemble comedy Tower Heist debuted to lukewarm box-office figures and whose promotional endeavors have found him invoking his sexual history and bedroom technique to cringe-inducing effect. Today Ratner apologized for a "joke" he made over the weekend, responding to a viewer during a Tower Heist Q&A that "rehearsal's for fags." Wait, what? This is the guy co-producing the forthcoming Academy Awards? [UPDATE: Now he's a homophobe and a liar.]
Of course, this is the second time in as many months that Ratner has had to issue a mea culpa for insensitively made remarks. At least back in September, when the 41-year-old filmmaker apologized for a Tower Heist joke referring to Ben Stiller's character as "little seizure boy," he was making amends for a line in the film that he didn't even write. (Actor and Twitter personality Greg Grunberg, the father of an epileptic son, spoke out for a Tower Heist boycott before Ratner issued his regrets.)
His gay slur, however, was evidently all Ratner:
The director was answering questions from the audience after introducing the movie at the Arclight Hollywood cineplex.
"The audience was stunned," one person who was present told TheWrap. At least one person walked out, upset over the reference. [...] The exchange went like this, according to a video of the event that was posted on the internet but later removed:
Q: So you get this entire group of actors together -- what was rehearsal like?
A: Rehearsal? What's that? Rehearsal's for fags. Rehearsal. Not much. A lot of prep, preparation, complex action sequences, visual effects. Storyboards, animatics. The process was I made the actors stick to the script. And they wanted to, because the script was great.
Are you kidding me? "Rehearsal's for fags"? For what it's worth, Ratner expressed his remorse this morning:
"I apologize for any offense my remarks caused. It was a dumb way of expressing myself. Everyone who knows me knows that I don't have a prejudiced bone in my body. But as a storyteller I should have been much more thoughtful about the power of language and my choice of words."
Mmm-hmm. I mean, people have only been reminding Ratner of this for his last 15 years' worth of movies, but I digress. Let's look at Ratner's other storytelling techniques in recent days, specifically his means of countering Olivia Munn's recollection of an anonymous director -- widely rumored but never confirmed before last week to be Ratner -- whom she alleged once confronted her while holding a jumbo shrimp and his not-so-jumbo junk:
"I used to date Olivia Munn, I'll be honest with everyone here. But when she was 'Lisa.' She wasn't Asian back then. She was hanging out on my set of After the Sunset, I banged her a few times, but I forgot her. Because she changed her name. I didn't know it was the same person, and so when she auditioned for me for a TV show, I forgot her, she got pissed off, and so she made up all these stories about me eating shrimp and masturbating in my trailer. And she talked about my shortcomings."
It's like the guy's never heard of the high road -- or at least backchannels, where so much of Hollywood's revenge is exacted, especially by those with such eminent positions as co-producer of the freaking Academy Awards. Then came today's Howard Stern show, that font of class and taste where Ratner apparently carried on about... ugh:
Fine -- it's Howard Stern, and Tower Heist is reeling. Love him or hate him, Ratner is an expert, tireless self-promoter in ways from which many up-and-coming filmmakers could learn. [UPDATE 11/7 6:38 p.m. ET: Except that, as a reader points out, Ratner copped today to lying about his Munn story as well -- which he also apologized for. What in the world is going on here?]
Of course, most up-and-coming filmmakers aren't co-producing the Academy Awards, and most of them haven't just made a modestly received blockbuster hopeful with the guy hosting the Oscars -- a guy who himself stirred discomfort at AMPAS HQ a few weeks back by publicly anticipating being the worst Oscarcast host ever.
The difference between Ratner and Eddie Murphy, of course, is that Murphy's a comedian. To the extent he cares about hosting the Oscars at all (which is an open question at this point), he can claim his comments are tongue in cheek. Meanwhile, Ratner's spirited enthusiasm for his projects -- from his early shorts and videos to his publishing efforts to the Oscars and beyond -- doesn't square up with his utter boorishness and lack of sophistication in the public realm. Insensitive as his "fags" comment was, it follows a disturbing recent pattern and demonstrates a bracing disregard for the Academy and co-producer Don Mischer. After all, this is the same institution that came under fire last year for a censored kiss between presenters Josh Brolin and Javier Bardem -- and that was with openly gay Oscar-winner Bruce Cohen co-producing with Mischer. Now AMPAS has the guy who's pledging to make the Oscars cool with the kids following up his four-quadrant stinker with homophobic jock humor.
Is an apology really enough? Will the Academy's Board of Governors stand for this? Will prospective awards presenters -- gays and straights alike -- look past the artless, guileless man behind the curtain? Moreover, does Brett Ratner have enough of a grip on reality to get through the next three and a half months of Oscar posturing and politics in a media sphere that's dying to see him flame out? Even former Oscar co-host Alec Baldwin, himself turning increasingly to the tastemaking side of the business, couldn't refrain recently from mocking Ratner in public -- to Tower Heist co-star Matthew Broderick, no less, whose defense was little match for Baldwin's thinly veiled contempt.
There's still time for the Academy to make a change; AMPAS representatives did not respond to Movieline's request for comment on if or how that change might take place -- or who might make it first, Ratner or Academy president Tom Sherak. But ultimately there are no shortcuts to that high road, and you can only hitch a ride so long.
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