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Mutants On Parade 10/15/09
by Lance Norris

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Tom Cruise Hates Cripples!

Actually, that's not fair. It makes a nice headline but technically, Cruise isn't the producer on this film. More accurately, Joe Roth hates cripples. Or maybe it's producer/director James Mangold that hates the cripples; but I'm getting ahead of myself.

I've been on movies sets far and wide. Low budget Indies in the fields of Illinois, no budget pornos in farmhouse in Norwell, moderate budget comedies in run-down Lowell, mega-budget Clint Eastwood films on the banks of the Mystic River. I only point this out to show that I'm pretty jaded, but there still is something akin to awe when you step on set of a Tom Cruise film.

It's massive. Tents, trucks, recreational vehicles, a sea of cars, honey wagons that are actually cleaned daily, canteen trucks and huge bar-b-q stoking up for the day, filling the air with wood smoke and anticipation. So many teamsters standing around doing nothing, you think you've wondered into a refuge camp.

I was book for one day this week on Mangold's WICHITA, an action comedy staring Cruise and, for some reason, Cameron Diaz. I guess no one had seen THE BOX before they hired her. They had taken over a huge parking lot behind the World Trade Center on Boston Harbor for their base camp.

I was just background. An extra. Just a drab guy waiting for the bus as these two mega-watt stars throw off some sparks. Towards that end, I was asked to show up at 6:00am in bland clothes, and bring some bland options incase the wardrobe shrew, Robert Q. Mathews, didn't like my first choice.

I'm working on a theory that the real reason LUCKY NUMBERS, 50 FIRST DATES, THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW, CONSTANTINE and UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL all sucked is because Robert Q. Mathews worked on them, but he also did the wardrobe on THE PRESTIGE, which I liked, so I'll give him a pass.

How-some-ever, Mathews didn't give me a pass on my ensemble for WICHITA, all drawn from my closet. Khaki pants and a tan button down shirt over grey t-shirt. Granted, it was about 6:30 in the morning when I first went to wardrobe, but he gave me the quick once over and said, 'Great, you're wearing all white. Tell me you brought something else'.

You know what, I take it back. LUCKY NUMBERS and all those other movies sucked because they had a color blind Costume Supervisor, plain and simple; but I'm just an extra, so who am I to point out his horrible disability on the set? He pick a dark brown polo shirt and a pair of jeans out of my bag and told me to go put those on.

I asked Robert Q., the man in charge of the department, where I could change. He told me, "Oh, I don't know. Ask a PA". That's movie talk for, 'Don't bother me. Go spend the rest of the day looking for some unpaid intern to answer your question, which he more than likely won't be able to do, but at least it is no longer my problem'.

Surprisingly, I found a PA that actually knew where the dressing rooms were fairly quickly. He pointed to a row of trucks and said, 'There are dressing rooms back there.' I found them. Two tents erected at the end of the wardrobe trucks in the middle of this parking lot. The tent on the right said 'Woman', leaving one to guess that the tent on the left was for men.

I entered slowly, in case my guess had been wrong, and the tent was empty. Not empty in the sense that there was no one in it, man or woman. Empty in the sense that it was totally devoid of content. No people, no chairs, no tables, no mirrors, no hangers. Nothing. As barren as Tom Cruise's little shark-eyes when you talk to him on the street.

That shouldn't be a problem, right. Just changing my shirt and pants. Kick off the shoes, zip, zip, zip? Unfortunately, several years ago I shattered my knee and various parts of my leg doing a stunt on a horrible John Savage film, and now I get the best parking at Wal-mart. Of course, I'm also a pathetic cripple, but you can't beat the parking.

This also means that it is physically impossible for me to take off my shoes and change my pants without laying down, or in a painful pinch, sitting in chair. Laying in the dirt, in a vacant tent, in the middle of a parking lot, with little or no chance of getting myself back on feet when the job was done, wasn't a prospect I relished. Especially not for the $138 SAG Extra Rate I was going to be paid for the day. So, I searched out my friendly PA again.

I found him on his third bowl of oatmeal at the craft services tent and explained the problem in my clear and even-tempered way, and he said, "Well, you'll just have to make do," and went back to what I hoped was a macrobiotic diet to help fight the ravages of extremely painful stomach cancer. Of course, he's just a PA and isn't expected to know anything about human decency or the American's With Disabilities Act. So I went to find a 3rd or even 4th AD. Maybe that far up the food chain they would know how to help.

Like I said, the set of a Tom Cruise movie is an impressive beast. Rows or trucks and cars and tents and teamsters, but not a lot of helpful people. After about a half hour of stumbling around asking everyone with a walkie talkie were I could find even the lowliest of Assistant Directors and getting blank looks that made the dressing room tent look absolutely prolix, I figured I wasn't getting paid enough for this shit and went home.

I did email the casting agent, just so she'd know why I wasn't on the set. She emailed back, later in the day, "Thanks for letting me know about the situation, I was not aware. I will pass this along to the appropriate people and I apologize for your disappointing experience on set."

I figured I'd let the Screen Actors Guild know too, since I pay them an ungodly amount twice a year to be a member. They have yet to respond, but then again, SAG in Boston is a bigger joke than anything you're likely to find in the script for WICHITA. Of course, I say that without having read the script, but originally it was going to be a Chris Tucker vehicle, so I think I can safely guess how unfunny it really is.

So what does this all mean? Nothing really. James Mangold in working on a feature version of the documentary MURDERBALL, you know, that bastard child of Donkey Basketball they play in wheelchair and erroneously call 'Rugby'? Maybe he'll learn some respect for cripples on the set there, but it's unlikely.

The producers did just change the name of the movie from WICHITA to KNIGHT AND DAY on Wednesday. I wonder if they were worried I might file an ADA lawsuit and the title change would confuse me? All I know is because I had to leave the set, at least I didn't have face the moral dilemma I had been fearing all day: what if Katie Holmes had slipped me a note begging, 'Help me escape'? Would saving her and little Sushi be worth losing my $138 for the day?


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Ask a Bitter Man
Every Thursday

Lance Norris gives us his opinions on the state of film, vents about Hollywood, and generally lets his thoughts fly.

Other Columns
Other columns by Lance Norris:

Later On Croutons

Mutants On Parade 11/12/09

Mutants On Parade 11/5/09

Mutants On Parade 10/29/09

Mutants On Parade 10/21/09

All Columns

Lance Norris
Lance Norris, dubbed "Boston's only straight Film Critic" reviews movies for WZLX in Boston.

He has two books entitled Ask A Bitter Man: The Best of 1984 - 1999 Vol. 1 and I've Seen Better Film On The Teeth of Wolverines. which you can buy here

If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Lance Norris by clicking here.

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