Ask Dana Carvey’s handlers whether the comedian is frustrated that his next film project fell through and the answer comes back: “There’s so much going on with this guy, who knows?”
Ask the filmmakers involved with “Bad Boys,” which was to begin shooting for Hollywood Pictures Feb. 16 with Carvey and fellow “Saturday Night Live” alum Jon Lovitz--and it’s a very different story. They’ve thrown up their hands for now.
While Carvey’s been “inundated” with offers and deals--as host of a replacement show in the David Letterman slot on NBC and two “Saturday Night Live” spin-off movies including “Wayne’s World 2" and a “Hans and Franz” project, to name the obvious ones--the producers behind “Bad Boys” will have to wait. Wait for a workable script, wait for their star, wait for another green light from the Walt Disney Studios, whose Hollywood Pictures division is bankrolling the $20-million picture.
If those producers weren’t Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, maybe it wouldn’t matter so much. But this duo, known in their headier days at Paramount for making a string of blockbusters like the two “Beverly Hills Cop” movies and “Top Gun,” haven’t had their name up on the screen since the much-derided “Days of Thunder” three summers ago.
The pair moved on to cautious and cost-conscious Disney after their lucrative Paramount deal was dissolved and have worked nearly two years for the cameras to roll on another Simpson-Bruckheimer film.
Until two weeks ago, “Bad Boys” was very much on the fast track at Disney, which is why some eyebrows were raised around town when it was suddenly derailed. In fact, it was one of the studio’s most talked-about upcoming projects since being announced with some fanfare last fall.
And, smarting from two years of bad publicity, Simpson and Bruckheimer acknowledged they thought it critical that “Bad Boys” be problem-free going forward. It wasn’t.
“Since the other guys (Carvey, Lovitz) had plenty to do, they certainly had no problem,” said Simpson in a telephone interview from a six-week diet and fitness retreat in Arizona. “But (Jerry and I) can’t afford the risk professionally or personally . . . of course we’re disappointed.”
Those familiar with its history said that it was busted out at the last minute because, after four screenwriters, there was still no filmable script.
And Carvey, sought after by both presidents of production and the (now former) President of the United States, isn’t a talent who’s going to be sitting around, those close to him say. His fees are going up daily and he’s caught up in the whirlwind that goes with being a hot property.
The deal on “Bad Boys” was made after the success of “Wayne’s World” but prior to his big jump in popularity as the great mimicker of George Bush (not to mention Ross Perot) and as one of the few comedians hip and high-profile enough to be considered to replace David Letterman in the 12:30 a.m. time slot.
“Bad Boys” was a “go” last June, said Bruckheimer.
One studio executive who asked for anonymity said Simpson and Bruckheimer “were running out of time when it came to Carvey. I ask you, how come (former Fox Film chairman, now Disney-based independent producer) Joe Roth is here for 60 days and has five movies going and these guys can’t get one off the ground? It’s sad more than anything.”
Hollywood Pictures President Ricardo Mestres doesn’t see it that way.
He said there was no reason for the Disney division to rush the project when Carvey and Lovitz are under contract--called “pay or play” in Hollywood lingo--to return to do the movie at some point. Besides, he said, at least three other Simpson and Bruckheimer-developed movies should get the green light within the next 12 months.
“Three screenwriters attacked the (“Bad Boys”) script and while we got close, we finally all concluded it was silly to rush something. None of us needed this kind of chaos,” he said.
Why couldn’t they get an acceptable script? Some speculate that it’s because Simpson likes to hire his friends and former associates, whose talents may not fit a given writing project. (Bruckheimer handles the practical aspects of filmmaking, leaving the creative decisions mostly to Simpson, they said.)
Others who know Simpson said they empathize with his headaches in taking an original script--bought as “Bulletproof Hearts” in 1986 for $55,000 from then-fledgling screenwriter George Gallo, who has since written “Midnight Run"--and hiring others to rewrite it under deadline to Carvey’s satisfaction.
In succession, the writers were old Simpson friend and “Bugsy” Academy Award nominee James Toback (in whose film “The Big Bang” Simpson appears) and lastly “Beverly Hills Cop II” screenwriter Larry Ferguson with a dialogue polish along the way by television writer David Milch.
Gallo’s script was a case of mistaken identity where two New York detectives--one an inveterate womanizer, one a family man--unwittingly trade places in their effort to bust a major heroin ring. “A ’48 HRS.'-type comedy: laugh, laugh, gunshot,” as Gallo himself explained it.
But the womanizing character that Carvey would play did not sit well with the comedian, although Lovitz’s “Jewish, nebbish” character was suitable for the co-star, the writers said. Interviews with Toback and Ferguson also revealed that it was something of a challenge to try and write for Carvey when the actor-comedian could never quite settle on how he envisioned the role.
At one point in early December, Carvey and Lovitz taped some scenes for director Michael Bey from Toback’s script that the filmmakers were all pleased with and Toback said he got the impression from telephone conversations with Carvey that the movie was on schedule. The writer subsequently was surprised to learn from his ICM agent Jeff Berg last week that “it looks as if it’s not going ahead.”
“There will never be a script on this movie,” said Toback, commenting on the improvisational tendency of the stars. He’s now off the “Bad Boys” project and now working on a screenplay for Warren Beatty and a personal film project for Harvard University, his alma mater. “To me, the only problem if you have guys like (Carvey and Lovitz), who are not traditional actors, is when you try to rein them in . . . you have to understand their attitude and go with it.”
That attitude, apparently, won’t be tested again until next January, when the filmmakers expect all the pieces to be in place.
Even while Bruckheimer expresses optimism, Simpson has some niggling doubts.
As he put it: “I’ve been around long enough, I know there are never any guarantees.”