Here's something worth cheering: this summer, two big-budget Hollywood adventure movies, Bad Boys and Crimson Tide, have broken the $50 million mark with African-American men in colorblind leading parts--Martin Lawrence and Will Smith as tough Miami cops in the former film, and Denzel Washington as a by-the-book nuclear sub commander in the latter. The script for Crimson Tide was designed as a Tom Clancy-type technothriller in which the plot hook (mutiny on a submarine) is the real star. Ditto the maverick lawman parts played by Lawrence and Smith in Boys.
The Bad Boys project floated around Hollywood for a decade and was always intended as a generic buddy-cop flick in the 48 Hrs.-Running Scared-Lethal Weapon vein. However, Bad Boys wasn't specifically envisioned as a salt-and-pepper, demographic crossover project. According to Premiere magazine, the closest it came to actually getting made in the past was three years ago, when it was presented to Paramount pictures as a vehicle for John Lovitz and Dana Carvey.
Kudos belong to master glitz peddlers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, who produced both movies. Their track record of glitzy, content-free megahits includes films showcasing both white stars (Top Gun, Days of Thunder, Flashdance) and black (Beverly Hills Cop I-III). Their almost obscene financial success demonstrates that if you give moviegoers a halfway-involving concept and a couple of interesting performers, they won't think to make a skin check before they lay their money down at the ticket window.
University of Texas at Austin graduate Matthew McConaughey, who first gained a cult following as the eternal high schooler Wooderson in Richard Linklater's 1993 comedy Dazed and Confused, has won the lead in the new John Grisham film A Time to Kill. McConaughey was equally superb as the honor-bound cop in Boys on the Side and as the gibbering psychopath in Return to Texas Chainsaw Massacre. But thus far, A-list fame has eluded him. Since Grisham personally installed him in the part over such better-known actors as Val Kilmer and Woody Harrelson, and since he'll be starring opposite such major clout-swingers as Sandra Bullock and Samuel L. Jackson, it's safe to assume he's finally arrived.
--Matt Zoller Seitz (email@example.com)
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