On Pacino Film, They're Having Devil of a Time

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Warner Bros. film "Devil's Advocate" has fallen behind schedule in New York, with some involved blaming everything from crew firings and short daylight hours to a continually tardy Al Pacino, a miscast and struggling Keanu Reeves and a disliked director.

Within the first two weeks of shooting, the film's cinematographer, and first and second assistant directors were fired.

Rob Friedman, president of worldwide advertising and publicity for Warner Bros., acknowledged that the film is behind schedule "a day or two at the most," citing a bumpy start of production because of the crew firings as well as the short days in late autumn New York.

Other sources said the courtroom thriller--which is being produced by two of Hollywood's biggest players, Oscar winner Arnold Kopelson ("The Fugitive" and "Platoon") and Arnon Milchan ("JFK," "Pretty Woman")--is five to seven days behind. It is tentatively planned for release next August.

An executive on the film said Pacino is tardy daily because he is involved in other projects. "But Al is tardy on every film and we knew that before he ever signed on. You just work around it. When Al is there, he's a force of nature and you get your money's worth. He's a serious Method actor who gets into the role and some people may be misreading his mood," the executive said.

Pacino plays Satan doubling as a powerful New York attorney who hires a young Florida lawyer (Reeves) whose specialty is jury selection. It has been described as "The Firm" meets "Angel Heart"--a grisly 1987 adaptation of William Hjortsberg's novel about a two-bit private eye who makes a pact with the devil.

Warner Bros. and Kopelson both vehemently denied claims of Pacino's tardiness. (Shooting in New York on a big production can cost $150,000 to $200,000 per day. Everyone on the film, be it cast or union crew, gets paid whether the camera rolls or not.)

"That is absolutely not true. Al Pacino is the absolute perfect actor and has been on time every day," Kopelson said. Added Warners' Friedman: "He is the consummate professional and shows up to work when he is called." (Milchan, said to be traveling out of the country, could not be reached for comment.)

In any case, "Devil's Advocate" has other problems, according to key players on the project. "Al hates [director Taylor] Hackford because Hackford is arrogant [and] yells at everybody. . . . He thinks he's Cecil B. DeMille ever since he did 'An Officer and a Gentleman,' " said one source heavily involved whose claims were backed by another principal in the production.

"I think this is a non-story. Both Al and Keanu have been terrific . . . totally dedicated. Yes, unfortunately we had to make a couple of key personnel changes. This is a film about the devil for Warner Bros. What do you expect?" Hackford said in a statement. "However, compared to 'An Officer and a Gentleman,' the problems on 'Devil's Advocate' have been minor."

One insider who has known Hackford for years said he is "a big guy with a big presence who is very confident and has a bellowing voice that could be misread."

Then there is Reeves. "Keanu is a sweet guy and may be a star but he's screwing up his lines right and left and the accent is so bad there's been talk of dubbing it in," one source said. "It's driving Pacino nuts. Everyone suspects Al is disgusted, wants out and that's why he's always late."

Both Reeves and Hackford were not the first attached to the project based on Lawrence Cohen's script, which has been floating around for a decade and reworked by at least three other writers. "Batman" and "A Time to Kill" director Joel Schumacher and Brad Pitt considered it after Schumacher teamed with Kopelson on 1993's "Falling Down."

"Brad and I were going to do it. All the sets were designed and we were practically ready to go but we couldn't find someone right for the devil's role," Schumacher said. "It was this very dark, seductive tale about the power of evil. I remember one incredible scene where Brad would have been chased through the different levels of New York's subway system with each level being a level of hell in 'Dante's Inferno.' But the script needed work and I knew that Brad was on the cusp of his breakthrough as a star. I didn't want to take any chances for him. That was a key reason why I decided to pass. So did he."

Eventually Hackford and Reeves were brought aboard; now they are now the subject of firing rumors. Warners and Kopelson say neither will be replaced. "At this point the shoot is too far along and it would cost too much," said another key source.

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Reports of friction between stars and directors are not uncommon on big-budget, star-driven studio films. Kopelson heard his share of it on "Eraser" over star Arnold Schwarzenegger, which this year grossed more than $100 million at the box office.

Warners officials and Kopelson insisted that comments suggesting Reeves is miscast or of conflicts among Pacino, Reeves and Hackford are "absolutely not true."

"With respect to Al being unhappy [with the director and co-star], I have not heard any of this," Kopelson said. "He has been doing his job brilliantly with no attitude. I would work with him on any picture."

He bristled at comments about Reeves' acting. "Keanu is very serious about being the best he can be in this movie. He does not flub his lines. He is supposed to be from the South and has a slight accent."

Reeves' manager, Erwin Stoff, who also serves as the film's executive producer, said: "I don't understand any of this [criticism of Reeves' acting]. Are we in the business of reviewing people's performance in dailies, or are we in the business of reviewing people's performance in movies?"

Efforts to reach Reeves were unsuccessful.

Pacino's publicist, Pat Kingsley, said the actor gave this statement: "I look forward to seeing [Keanu] every day. He's a joy to work with." Kingsley denied that Pacino was late or had any contempt for Hackford.

"I've noticed the positive quotes always have names but the negative come from people who are always unnamed. That pretty much explains it," said Fred Specktor of CAA, Hackford's agent.

"Look, there was some stress on the set, largely because films set in New York have a tendency to be very stressful by nature," Warners' Friedman said. "The truth is some positions were replaced and production was behind schedule by a day or two at the most." The film began shooting Oct. 28.

"But everything is running smoothly now," Friedman continued. "There were never any plans to fire Hackford or Keanu and Warners is not unhappy or worried about the state of this production."

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