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Is Jim Carrey Flying in the Face of Success, Again?

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

He’s no “Cable Guy,” most agree--but he’s no “Liar Liar” either. Just what Jim Carrey is in his coming movie, “The Truman Show,” left some exhibitors who saw a bit of footage of director Peter Weir’s Paramount film perplexed.

Their comments began to circulate after last month’s ShoWest convention in Las Vegas, but intensified when one of the film’s stars, Dennis Hopper, left the project after one day of shooting. His exit last week was blamed on “creative differences.” Just whom Hopper clashed with remains unclear. (Ed Harris replaced Hopper in the role of a villainous network executive.) Hopper was unavailable for comment.

But it is Carrey’s performance in “The Truman Show” that has aroused the most discussion in Hollywood, largely because his latest film, Universal’s “Liar Liar,” has leaped to blockbuster status--about $100.9 million at the box office in just three weeks of release.

That would seem to underscore the sense in Hollywood that Carrey’s box-office draw is directly related to the type of role he is playing. Last summer, he tried to break out of his goofy persona in the black humored “The Cable Guy,” which proved to be one of the year’s biggest disappointments. The success of “Liar Liar,” which features Carrey back in his classic silly mode, only served to bolster the theory, making Paramount’s executives a little nervous about “The Truman Show’s” prospects.

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Those who saw clips of “The Truman Show” at ShoWest pegged Carrey’s role as a cross between “Forrest Gump” and “Edward Scissorhands"--an offbeat, sweet innocent whose life is enmeshed in a surreal world. He is the last to learn that his whole life is nothing more than a TV show.

“People were startled when they saw it. They weren’t ready. It was jolting for them to see Jim in that environment,” said producer Brad Krevoy of the production company Motion Picture Corp. of America. “Jim was playing this very intricate, very sensitive character. His world had this odd suburbia feel to it like in ‘Edward Scissorhands.’ You knew something was odd but you couldn’t put your finger on it.

“In one brief scene, a light falls from the sky but then he looks up and the sky is clear. It was like, the falling light was a mistake or something. And then you’d see the other characters always fiddling with their tie tacks. What I saw, to me, was very intriguing,” Krevoy said. “Other people, a lot of them exhibitors, just moved around uncomfortably in their seats. But I think that was probably the same kind of reaction when people first saw ‘3rd Rock From the Sun'--they didn’t know what to think.”

Others said they were confused by the footage, worried that Carrey is flipping back into off-center “Cable Guy” territory.

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Despite all the criticism for deviating from his usual roles, Carrey insisted on playing the “Truman” role. But he did so for $12 million, just over half his normal $20-million fee. The film is scheduled for an Aug. 8 release.

"[“Liar Liar”] is what works for Jim Carrey. Audiences voted at the box office,” said one exhibitor. “Who knows how this will shake out with ‘Truman’ but after a huge hit like ‘Liar Liar’ what do you think exhibitors want from him? They want what the public wants--what works. Of course, everyone’s a bit antsy. Jim’s a talent, but the saving grace here may be the director. Peter Weir is a strong filmmaker and if anybody could pull this kind of performance out of Carrey, Weir could.”

Precisely, says Paramount.

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The studio, after all, experienced similar apprehension a couple of years ago with “Forrest Gump”; it’s hard to remember now, since the Oscar-winning film became one of 1994’s hugest blockbusters, but early that year, exhibitors were jittery about the offbeat subject matter.

Rob Friedman, vice chairman of Paramount’s Motion Picture Group, said there should be no misconceptions about the early “Truman Show” footage.

“It’s unfortunate that people try to draw conclusions from a piece of film that was merely an announcement and not a story-driven trailer,” he said, noting that the film had only been shooting about four weeks when that bit of footage was excised for ShoWest. “This film is a wonderfully unique movie” that can’t be pigeon-holed, “made by an extremely talented creative team with [producer] Scott Rudin, Peter and Jim. We couldn’t be more excited about its potential for entertainment as well as the ultimate success at the box office.”


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