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Cut! It's time to rethink this

Zeta-Jones' decision to do commercials may be a questionable career choice.

November 21, 2002|Mark Caro | Chicago Tribune

She was such a lovely actress, a stunner really, with a bright career ahead of her until one dumb decision forever changed how we'll look at her.

How could she do it? How could she have been so short-sighted? Don't these rich folks pay advisors to steer them away from such self-sabotage?

Honestly, she'd have been better off if she'd been caught shoplifting or something. But no, Catherine Zeta-Jones had to make those irritating cell phone commercials instead.

Have you seen them? How could you avoid them?

See the Welsh-born star walking among the little people, yelling, "Cut!" to freeze them in their tracks like she's directing the movie of life and they're just extras. See her provide divine inspiration to these clueless folks, like, gee, if you had the chance to hang out with a hot chick in Europe if only you could find someone to watch your dog back home, you could reach the prospective dog-sitter with a phone.

See her snap her fingers, click her heels and shout, "Action!" so these nobodies can complete their little dramas. The ads could be scenes from a horror flick called "The Prom Queens Have Taken Over!"

It's no mystery why the cell phone company hired the 33-year-old actress to replace Jamie Lee Curtis. Zeta-Jones has been one of the most desired actresses since Antonio Banderas took a saber to her dress in 1998's "The Mask of Zorro."

Earlier this month, Real magazine voted her the world's most beautiful woman. She also was named the "ideal face of femininity" for 2001 by the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, which cited her "short delicate jaw with small chin and nose" plus "her lavish lips, well-developed cheek bones and prominent eyes."

After co-starring in the acclaimed "Traffic" and woeful "America's Sweethearts" (which relegated Julia Roberts to the plain-Jane role), Zeta-Jones took time out to have a baby. But now she's co-starring in the upcoming "Chicago," the film adaptation of the Bob Fosse musical that Miramax is positioning as its big Oscar contender.

Why would Zeta-Jones want audiences (and academy members) seeing her on screen and associating her with wireless communications?

Zeta-Jones' agent at the William Morris Agency declined comment, and because most folks in the movie business are averse to offending those who might contribute to future paychecks, critiques for attribution are rare. But no one I called thought Zeta-Jones was displaying brilliant judgment; one person associated with "Chicago" called the ads "an extraordinarily bad career move," "cheesy" and a potential turnoff to some of the movie's viewers.

"There's less and less stigma with A-list talent doing television series and commercial spots, but you need to choose carefully and consider the volume of sheer exposure," said an agent at a rival firm to William Morris. "When the women do all of the cosmetic ads, those make sense, and I don't mind seeing Halle Berry's face a zillion times for Revlon because she's beautiful and it works, makes sense. The cell phone thing, I don't get it."

Reports have Zeta-Jones getting paid a minimum of $1 million for her two-year ad deal, which would be a lot of money to most of us but seems a bargain for someone who could command eight-figure paychecks if she could cement her movie bankability. Plus, she's married to Michael Douglas, so that household isn't hurting.

Note that you haven't seen Roberts or Reese Witherspoon or Sandra Bullock or Nicole Kidman (or Tom Cruise or Tom Hanks) doing massive commercial campaigns in this country. Mega stars are mega because you want to spend $9 to see them on the big screen. If you can see them six times a night on TV, why bother? (This is why many TV stars have trouble crossing over to movies.) Meanwhile, David Arquette is struggling to be taken seriously after his series of obnoxious phone ads.

"It absolutely does devalue them," the "Chicago" person said of the ads. "Let's face it: That scarcity and mystery are part of what makes a movie star alluring."

Then again, Chris Pula, former marketing chief for Warner Bros., Disney and New Line, questioned whether Zeta-Jones has proven herself a true movie star.

"I don't know how talented she is," Pula said. "What hits has she done that are due to her? I'm sure she brought a younger audience to 'Entrapment' [the 1999 thriller with Sean Connery]."

Maybe the phone gig is just part of Zeta-Jones' quest to become the anti-Sandra Bullock by taking only unsympathetic parts. She was dislikable in "High Fidelity," "America's Sweethearts" and "Traffic," she plays a murderess in "Chicago" and she'll be a gold digger in the upcoming Coen Brothers movie "Intolerable Cruelty."

Still, at least one of my colleagues found himself won over by the ads.

"You know why I don't find them irritating?" he asked. "Because she's fine as hell."

*

Mark Caro is a movie reporter at the Chicago Tribune, a Tribune company.

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