If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, some Hollywood stars are going online to be very, very sincere.
In short videos, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel, Channing Tatum, Will Arnett and Cheech and Chong, among others, are re-imagining some of the films they love, with a twist and shout-out.
“It’s kind of like watching a movie and having it derail in your own head,” says Kashy Khaledi, whose Mean magazine has joined with Microsoft’s Zune to put together the new Web series “Cinemash.”
Among the three- to five-minute mashed-up delights: Milo Ventimiglia of NBC’s “Heroes” dons an Asian shock wig and takes a hammer to bailed-out, bonus-taking bankers in the hallway fight from the Korean action film “Oldboy”; Charlyne Yi (“Knocked Up”) and Tatum (“Step Up”) swish and Swayze through the seduction scene from “Dirty Dancing.”
In one of the few nods to a current project, the first short, which posted Tuesday, features Gordon-Levitt and Deschanel re-enacting the climax of “Sid and Nancy” with all the junkie drama and heartache that Gary Oldman and Chloe Webb brought to the original -- with a catch. Playing off a scene in their upcoming "(500) Days of Summer,” it’s Gordon-Levitt in lingerie, mascara (and stubble) as Nancy Spungen and Deschanel in punk-god drag as Sid Vicious.
“We wanted to take it really seriously,” Gordon-Levitt says. “To be winking would be a joke on a joke -- the gender reversal being the joke itself. To make it funny, we had to do the scene in a real way.”
Marc Webb, who directed both "(500) Days” and the “Sid” “Cinemash” episode, says: “It was one of those things that -- it had to be done. Once the idea is out there, you have to do it. You just can’t shove it back into your gullet.”
Mean’s previous Web buzz with videos of Ben Kingsley fronting the punk band Minor Threat and a “Bad Lieutenant” parody with “Saturday Night Live’s” Bill Hader freaking out in place of Harvey Keitel was the bridge to “Cinemash.”
“It’s just certain moments in a movie that could go in nine different directions. It could be funny, it could be considered horrifying, it could be anything,” says Khaledi, who wrote and directed several of the “Cinemash” segments. “The ‘Bad Lieutenant’ thing -- when [director] Abel Ferrara was making that scene, I’m sure he wasn’t thinking it was going to be funny, but it’s hilarious to us. It’s not like we invented this; people do it on YouTube all the time. But we pulled out the stops for this thing.”
With “Cinemash,” they’ve pushed forward by casting name actors in videos that will be posted in HD with 5.1 sound with new episodes scheduled to appear every Tuesday through mid-August.
The magazine’s reputation helped lure the talent -- Deschanel has now participated in three Mean projects; Arnett (who Cinemashes “Carrie” with himself in the role of the bloody prom queen) has done two. Ventimiglia knew of the magazine’s work, is involved in new media with his own production company, and loved the idea.
“Part of me was excited because I really did love ‘Oldboy’ -- it’s an incredibly artistic, beautiful, terrifying revenge movie that will break your heart and uplift you -- but another part of me was interested in the challenge of what that fight actually entailed. Go on YouTube and type ‘Oldboy epic fight’ and that’s what we basically shot. It’s pretty incredible.”
Ventimiglia estimates there were 78 moves to learn in about 45 minutes of rehearsal, all to be executed in one continuous take (shot three times) -- with the twist of venting populist anger on bankers profiting from the federal bailouts.
Yi says she and Tatum, whose super-sexy Swayze dance-walk is a highlight of their goof on “Dirty Dancing,” risked torturing the crew by blowing scenes.
“In some takes, I’m crying because I wanted to explode with laughter and I had to hold it in,” she says of their play on the movie’s seduction and dance scenes.
“When I was a kid, I always thought it was something dirty, you know, because of the name. I remember one day my parents weren’t home and I was like, ‘What’s this, what’s this?’ I was like, 11 or 12, and it wasn’t even dirty at all. It was a really sweet movie and I fell in love with it -- it’s always been a dream to play that role.”
Khaledi says it was surreal watching the two actors dance, particularly with Tatum in a wig. “He really embodied Patrick Swayze. They all really love Patrick too. He was a popular choice for us. Everyone’s favorite movie has Patrick Swayze in it. He was the badass of that era.”
Cast members of Comedy Central’s “Reno 911!” and MTV’s “Human Giant” crashed into Swayze’s “Point Break,” and Khaledi says there was discussion of a possible “Road House” segment. Can “Ghost” be far behind?
In what may be the oddest of casting, Cheech and Chong riff on the economic crisis in a cyberdelic take on the 1982 sci-fi groundbreaker “Tron.” Cheech Marin jokes that he agreed to participate in the project because “it knocks off 15 hours of community service.”
Marin’s longtime comedy partner, Tommy Chong, urges caution in viewing their episode: “I don’t think you should watch anything like that straight. It’ll have lasting, traumatic effects on you.”
Marin adds, “When I first saw it, I was shocked because I thought we were doing soft porn. And then, ‘Oh, it’s about finances; that’s kind of hard-core porn,’ ” before confessing to be a big fan of the original.
Khaledi echoes the performers’ fondness for the source material, wondering what the original artists would think.
“I hope they like it,” he says, “because they’re my heroes. Every one of the movies we did, I love. I’ve seen them all 30 or 40 times. I hope they know it’s the best tribute you could ever get.”
To view the digital Web series, go to movies.msn.com/cinemash/.