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JACK MATHEWS

A Penn In Search Of A Hand

September 24, 1986|JACK MATHEWS

Pssst! Hey pal, come here for a minute. Yeah, you with the bulging wallet and the naive look in your eye. I've got a proposition for you. How would you like to invest in Sean Penn's next movie?

Hey, what's so funny? I said Sean Penn, not Shaun Cassidy. I'm talking the new Marlon Brando, the new James Dean, the purest actor since Robert De Niro. You can look it up in American Film magazine or Vanity Fair. Brooding intensity doesn't grow on trees. Just mention the name Sean Penn to film critics and stand back. It's Drool City.

"Shanghai Surprise"? Yeah, sure, it turned out to be a Peking duck. But you can't blame that on my man Sean. Bad script, bad direction, I even heard the water and the food were bad. The guy's a superstar, not Superman.

Come a little closer. I'll tell you a secret. You've got to keep this to yourself, though. It's inside investor-only information. Listening? "Shanghai Surprise" was a wedding present to his wife, the Italian singer.

What? Yeah, the blonde doing the Brooke Shields impression in "Shanghai Surprise." . . . No, of course she can't act. I just said she's a singer. My wife operates a forklift; she couldn't play a sexually suppressed missionary who hires a slimy American bounty hunter and then falls in love with him while they search for a cache of lost opium, either.

The truth is: He did it for love. The guy gets married, he takes his bride to the Orient for a honeymoon and he agrees to co-star with her in a movie. What's the big deal? This sort of thing happens all the time. Don't tell me you've never lost your head and made a complete fool out of yourself for old l'amour ?

Forget "Shanghai Surprise." It was a watchacallit, an aberration. Even MGM, which released the movie with the pride of someone dumping toxic waste, knew it had made a serious mistake. It was one of those star-package things, the kind of movie Clark Gable and Carole Lombard might have made 50 years ago.

Sean's a great actor--the greatest. Look it up--but let's face it, as a leading man, Gable he ain't. No, Dean and Brando he ain't, either. . . . Huh? Well, I don't know if I'd go so far as to say he has the sex appeal of Oscar Levant. . . . The charm of Tojo? . . . Say, you're not a photographer, are you?

Let's talk about "The Falcon and the Snowman." You have to admit Sean was terrific as Daulton Lee in that. You've never seen a more believable sleazoid punk in a movie, unless it was Sean as Mick O'Brien in "Bad Boys," or as Brad Whitewood in "At Close Range" or as Jeff Spicoli in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High." There's no denying Sean has hit the screen's high-water mark, lowlife-wise.

His next director? It's his dad, Leo Penn . . . smart guy, done a lot of TV. But what's the difference? Sean doesn't need proven directors. Of the eight directors he's worked with, only three had more than one movie under their belts before working with Sean and. . . .

Yeah, most of his movies have been box-office stiffs, but it's not his fault. "At Close Range" was one of this year's major bomberoos, a real nose-pincher, but look at the reviews. The critics said the screen oozed with tension whenever Sean was up there. Ooze. That's the stuff they make Oscars out of.

You're right, Dean and Brando did work with people like Elia Kazan and George Stevens and Joseph L. Mankiewicz, but did the actors need the directors, or did the directors need the actors?

Trust me, in 20 years, nobody will ask, "Where would Amy Heckerling, Rick Rosenthal, James Foley and Jim Goddard have been without Sean Penn?"

So, can I put you down for $2 million for Sean's next picture, or $3 million for his next two, plus a discount coupon option on his third? . . . Hey, where're you going? How about $1 million for all three pictures? . . . How about . . .

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