Mutombo Just Might Have Future in Motion Pictures

This whole business about Dikembe Mutombo "flopping" is very interesting.

If you live here in the entertainment capital and someone talks about "flopping," maybe a Steven Seagal movie or the nightly "Southern California Sports Report" on Fox Sports Net might come to mind.

I have to admit when I first heard the word, I thought of calling the Dodgers for their expertise, but then I realized they are more into pratfalls or "flopping around" than outright flopping.

Now any form of the word "flop," of course, would probably bother the Movie Guy who runs the Dodgers, which probably explains why we got "Bucket Hat Night" last year at Dodger Stadium instead of "Floppy Hat Night," although floppy hats were given away.

This year there will be no Bucket (Floppy) Hat Night in Dodger Stadium because Manager Jim Tracy couldn't guarantee Eric Gagne wouldn't be pitching in that game, and you can just imagine what the headline writers at The Times might have done with that.

If you remember the movie, "Broadcast News," you know there's also something called "flop sweat," which in baseball terms is what Tracy experiences every time he calls on Gagne to pitch.

You've probably also heard the expression, "flop houses," and while everyone knows most of them are in Philadelphia and a flopping Mutombo plays for the Philadelphia 76ers, I'm told the two are definitely not related.

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/ THIS IS all about flopping--you know, Mutombo taking a dive as if he has been shot after being nudged by Shaquille O'Neal.

After Sunday's victory over the 76ers, Shaq told reporters, "I didn't think the best defensive player in the game would be flopping like that. It's a shame that the referees buy into that. I wish he'd stand up and play me like a man instead of flopping and crying every time I back him down. It's just a shame."

At issue here, of course, is whether Mutombo is flopping--something an actor would do--or giving ground to a moving locomotive because he has elected not to get run over.

If you saw Shaq in "Kazaam" or "Blue Chips," you know he would be a good judge of bad acting, but what would he know about this kind of method acting? To get a more unbiased point of view, I checked with some Hollywood experts: the No. 1 talent agent in the business, a big-time stunt coordinator and a clever screenwriter.

"I was watching the replays on TV and they showed a close-up, and I thought Mutombo's performance was about as good as any Academy Award winner last year," said Michael Ovitz, and clients Tom Cruise and Kevin Costner couldn't have delivered tongue-in-cheek lines any better. "The facial expression was clearly right out of Lee Strasberg's [school of acting].

"A bunch of us were together watching the game, and none of us realized that Mutombo had studied acting in such a serious way. I think if he came to Hollywood there would be a lot of competition among agents to represent him."

The referees working the game reacted to Mutombo's work as if they were watching Denzel Washington do Shakespeare. They probably also think "Pearl Harbor" is the best movie they have ever seen.

Matt Healy, who wrote the Vince Vaughn movie, "Clay Pigeons," has finished a new inviting screenplay, "Lotto Trash." And while it sounds like Philadelphia would be the perfect setting, he said he was thinking more along the lines of Danny DeVito than Mutombo in the lead role.

I suggested putting them together, but he said, "Billy Crystal already did that in 'My Giant' with Gheorghe Muresan," which put the two of us back on the subject of "flopping."

It's pretty well understood that if Shaq leaned on you or me, Shaq would flatten us and we would spend the rest of our lives looking like Gumby. But Mutombo is a monster like Shaq, and stunt coordinator Eric Cord, who has taken on bigger projects than Shaq, believes Mutombo's work falls far short of the standards set by the Stuntmen's Assn. of Motion Pictures.

"His performance was really weak," said Cord, who has done work in several of Arnold Schwarzenegger's movies. "I watched the guy falling back and as a stunt coordinator I would have asked him to redo the shot. I don't know what the referees were watching.

"A good stunt man would make it look like his shoes were nailed to the floor and then, with chin tucked in, would leap high and as far back as possible with arms and legs waving before landing hard on his back. You have to sell it. This guy was falling back and looking to see what the referee's reaction was going to be. I would have landed hard on my back and appeared dazed."

To me, Mutombo always looks dazed, which tells me he has some serious Marlon Brando in him. And I'm thinking, now that the referees have encouraged him, he's probably eager to pursue an acting career.

"How am I going to flop if I have stitches in my mouth?" he said, and if he shows up for Wednesday night's game with cotton stuffed in his mouth like Brando in "The Godfather," I wouldn't be surprised.

For all we know, this whole flopping thing just might be his ticket out of town, and you'd probably also give the performance of your life for the chance to come to Hollywood.

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/ ON THE Dodgers' pregame show Sunday, team owner Bob Daly kept referring to "Thomas Goodman" before finally correcting himself and saying "Thomas Goodwin."

Daly, the Movie Guy, probably just had him mixed up with John Goodman, another guy who wouldn't be very good at getting on base.

WHAT IF I said you are going to have the opportunity to just pick up the telephone and call Dave Winfield, Ron Cey or Davey Johnson to talk baseball, maybe get some advice on your fantasy baseball team or just ramble on and on about the good old days? As if Davey Johnson would take my call.

How quickly would you hang up if I told you it will cost $4.95 a minute to chat directly with your retired baseball heroes?

The new baseball telephone enterprise will be unveiled at a news conference today in Century City. No word on how much it will cost to attend and listen to the new project.

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/ TODAY'S LAST word comes in the form of a photo caption in Monday's Philadelphia Daily News:

"Brain-dead hack columnist T.J. Simers got 7,121 Philly e-mails after he called our town a 'hellhole.' "

The newspaper is obviously a stickler for accuracy.

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T.J. Simers can be reached at t.j.simers@latimes.com

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