Defamer.com is a Web site that eviscerates everything stupid and gross about my adopted hometown of Hollywood, California. And by stupid and gross I mostly mean Paris Hilton and Tom Cruise. Defamer attacks the bloated egos and fancy lifestyles of the rich and famous in a way that can only be likened to pouring boiling bleach on a giant ball of cotton candy. George Clooney hates Defamer. So do most other celebrities, I assume.
But for me, a not-famous person living in a city where, unlike the rest of the planet, the well-known are not a statistically insignificant per-capita presence, Defamer is like a really nice cup of organic green tea. I need some every morning to help ward off disease. You would too if you lived here and, while trying to go pick up your spouse from work — a spouse whose office is unfortunately located near Graumann’s Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard — you were prevented from walking to that office because the premiere of director Brett Ratner’s film “After The Sunset” was hogging the entire block. The movie could be good or bad, you don’t even know, you don’t even care, but in that moment where you’re just trying to live your boring life and a blockful of jillionaires are disallowing the use of the sidewalk, you start to feel the tiniest bit resentful.
And then comes the part where you actually have to see “After the Sunset.” Or any of Ratner’s movies, in fact. Taken as a whole, they are the cinematic equivalent of a monochrome-outfits-only “event” thrown by P. Diddy, one at an imaginary velvet-rope-and-snooty-door-person venue called The End of Restraint. Michael Bay owns the place but he rents it out to Ratner at a discount.
Linsday Lohan is there, picking a fight with every other actress her age and pulling their extensions out with her bare hands because they dared look at her man Ratner. Actual money is being served as an hors d’oeuvre. Just as the party is peaking, Robert Evans sticks his head in the door and shouts, “But wait! Aren’t family and homespun, small-town morality the most important things?” To which the celebrity crowd chants, “Hell to the yeah!” before everyone strips down and dives into a giant hot tub.
Overgrown frat boy turned auteur
Ratner — with or without his movies — is the man Defamer loves to hate most. Some readers might think that honor belongs to Cruise. But there’s no love in that equation, just hate. Ratner embodies the kegger-loving frat boy who grew up (sorta) and realized he was good at making money just by being a fun guy to hang out with. He is his movies, which makes him something of an auteur.
Now to be fair, Ratner’s films are not inept outsider art like Uwe Boll’s or as extravagantly, defiantly stylized and stupid as Bay’s. They are what I like to call examples of the Heightened Conventional. They’re good-natured and hackish. They take humans and flatten them, making the obvious huge and pissing on subtlety. No stone is left unturned and no emotion is too big and no building is not blown up. No art is made. But everyone has a good time. Especially the director.
It starts with “Rush Hour,” the “best” of the bunch. It came on the heels of Ratner’s forgettable Chris Tucker-starring feature debut “Money Talks” and it married someone’s big idea to remake “48 Hours” — stripping away the story and making it all about shrieking and shooting things and the amusing sight of a Chinese man misunderstanding a black man — to Ratner’s vision of how awesome it would be to make another movie with Chris Tucker. You can just hear Ratner pumping his fists after the film’s successful pitch meeting (he’s legendary already for being “good in a room”) and shouting, “Yeah! Now we f---in’ party!”
The resulting film was about Tucker screaming about “chinamen” as Jackie Chan (and allegedly his off-the-record stunt doubles) hurled himself off speeding cars and climbed up walls like Gene Kelly on a meth-binge. It was a bold piece of junk and I enjoyed myself as I watched it. I just don’t remember a single thing about it beyond what I just wrote. “Rush Hour 2” was more of that, only not as refined or memorable, but with the added bonus of Zhang Ziyi looking constantly confused.
Then came “The Family Man,” starring Nicolas Cage as the luckiest, richest, hair-pluggiest jerk alive forced to learn the true meaning of love, family and Christmas all at once. No, seriously, it’s a heartwarming Christmas movie starring the unsettling Nicolas Cage, a man Ratner courted strenuously to be in the film. He says so on the freaky DVD bonus footage. It’s one of those movies made to keep downwardly mobile suburbanites happy with their boring lot in life. “Don’t reach for that platinum ring! Stay in Kansas with your little dog Toto!” the movie shouts. “You will lose your soul! Like we did! Waiter! Bring me more Cristal!”
At least someone is having funI walked out of “After the Sunset” in its theatrical run. Because I was bored. So I forced myself to watch it again for this article. All the way to the end. And you know what? For a dopey, sneering heist movie starring Pierce Brosnan at his haughtiest, Woody Harrelson just this side of being one toke over the line and Salma Hayek as Charo; a film that plays like an excuse for the director to hang out in St. Lucia with his pals, working hard and playing harder; it’s not nearly as boring as the original Rat Pack version of “Ocean’s Eleven.”
Time — in this case a couple of years — hasn’t been kind to it or anything. There are just a lot of movies out there that have been way worse in the interim. And that DVD “making of” featurette? It shows everyone on set having a blast. It defies you to hate its leader. Ratner comes off as the happiest unshaven schlub you’d ever want to have play a homoerotic set-prank on you (he does it to a shocked Brosnan, climbing into bed with the erstwhile Bond). He’s even thrilled while Naomi Campbell makes a set visit. That’s an unflappable kind of affable.
“Red Dragon” showed Ratner settling in to his station as a director of presumed tentpole event films, someone who gets it in on time and on budget and who can deliver a bland meal for mainstream appetites. The least of the Hannibal Lecter films, it succeeds in cartooning the cannibal into cuddly status and turning an entire set-full of Actorly Actors (Edward Norton, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Emily Watson, Ralph Fiennes) into “Rushmore’s” Max Fischer Players. You know it’s bad, but it brings out a weird sort of affection in you that you can’t shake. The love to hate thing again.
So when I go off to see “X-Men: The Last Stand” tonight, I’ll keep Ratner’s 2005 Christmas card in mind. Defamer, God bless them every one, posted it last December. On it Ratner was dressed as Wolverine, flanked by Halle Berry and the rest of the Mutants. It was the public move of man who’s got his and gleefully rolls around in it like a pig in mud. He makes the movies lots of folks line up for and that’s enough. He’s almost spiritual in his achievement of having lost all fear: of the press, of film critics, snarky bloggers on vicious gossip Web sites, everyone. Well, maybe not of Lindsay Lohan.
Dave White is the author of “Exile In Guyville,” writes about film for Movies.com and blogs at