Of the unsolved mysteries of the twentieth century – JFK's assassination,
Y2K, the popularity of tattoos – probably the most baffling of all was the
cancellation of the dish-dirty Fox comedy Action.
The series, starring an amazingly funny Jay Mohr in a tour de force as an
ace a-hole Hollywood producer – is a look at the pathetic mess that is the
business of show, with all its deceits, back stabbings, seething contempt,
moral corruption, midnight ego-feedings, lousy compromises and deepening
chaos. It was just perfect for Fox!
Take what you can get on the DVD though, and you get more than your money's
worth. What Action is essentially about is mucho levels of
prostitution, whether you're wearing a three-thousand-dollar suit or a
Disney jungle-girl costume.
Everyone's selling either their soul or their body. What is Hollywood, if
not a gathering of whores and hypocrites? In fact, the pimp who makes $20
million a year from his bui'ness speaks fondly of one of his charges: "That
bitch is just like a daughter to me." And the talk of an actor's sexuality
leads to this thought: "He's so gay, I'll bet money he's straight."
Man's inhumanity to man, the destructiveness of greed, the shallowness of an
industry that left decency in the dust, blah-blah-blah – you've seen and
heard it all before – but here you really haven't: from the
child-star-turned-whore-turned-producer (the always underrated Illeana
Douglas) to the always underused Buddy Hackett (in his last role), this is
all original, sharp as Swiss cheese and in your face, the way you want a
Hollywood backlot story to be.
Everybody is gunning for respect, in a world where there is no respect. The
studio lot security guard is called "Minimum Wage With A Gun." The short
actor Scott Wolf is called "Party-Of-Five-Foot-Two." When your director
accidentally drowns in your pool, you don't call the police – you call your
publicist. And plans are in the works for an animated Holocaust movie.
Mohr (no, not Denis Leary) – with his static electricity personality and
plastic smile – plays the appropriately named and über-ambitious Peter
Dragon, a wunderkind who made ten action films that grossed over a billion
dollars (ah, the nineties – when people still went to the movies!). With
titles such as Blood Mother and Rip Chord
expensive belt, Dragon is a young
prince of darkness sitting smartly on his throne (this is almost literal: he
has no idea what the word "altruistic" means, and he thinks the whore in the
Bible is named Marlee Matlin. And when Dragon is facing death from a
possible cancer, a rabbi does not present him with a blessing but with a
spec script.). He starts to topple as it all starts to unravel, along with
his patience, his mind, and even his heart (but no worries – it's not
sentimental for even a minute).
His last film, appropriately called Slow Torture, was an inexplicable
bomb at the box office, and thus begins Dragon's slide into Hell as
Hollyweird turns its back on him. (Keanu Reeves himself can't hide his
disappointment regarding Dragon's current production: "Much better
explosions in the last one.")
In Hollywood, as the cliché goes, you are only as good as your last picture,
so Dragon has one movie project (and no backers) to redeem himself. His new
endeavor, with the nineties-esque title of Beverly Hills Gun Club, is
a curse from the start, and even though Dragon is a total prick surrounded
by even bigger pricks (even his ex-wife is a prick), you are rooting for him
to come out on top.
"It's nice to be important, but it's more important to be nice," sneers the
fancy maitre d’, who sees all and knows all, and sees through Dragon with
the accent you can't place.
Murphy's Law is the rule of the day here: the top action star in the world
wants to come out of the closet after Dragon hires him, and Dragon is
literally forced into some compromising positions to keep the news from
getting out. The young actor who replaces the action star is a drug-addled
mess, the romantic interest is unexpectedly thirty-pounds overweight, the
legal rights to the story are suddenly announced as belonging to someone
else (this is revealed after shooting begins), and yes indeed, animals are
harmed in the filming of this movie.
The motherload line of the entire short series is when Dragon is offered a
product placement by a tobacco company. He replies, "You want me to sell
cancer to children – for under $3 million?"
We never find out if the film ever gets off the ground, and if so, if it's a
success. And yes, we do care. The series, originally slated for HBO but
demoted to Fox when cable didn't cough up enough money, lasted only eight
episodes before its shameful cancellation (the DVD gives you all thirteen,
unbleeped). Had it landed where it should (HBO), it would have run for
years, with a majorly devoted following.
The conventional wisdom regarding the cancellation of Action is that
"it was too inside." This is total bullshit, and too easy of an answer. What
do you call Entourage? The Sopranos? The Larry Sanders Show? Even
Granted, it was too good for regular TV. The irony just drips with attitude,
like when Dragon tells his prostitute-cum-business partner: "I usually have
girlfriends I pretend are whores, and now I have a whore I pretend is my
girlfriend." Still, he speaks of her fondly to others: "Her years in the
gutter really prepared her to be a production executive."
When the lead actress (named Reagan Busch) is told, "Your crotch has had
more visitors than Graceland," and (if she continues to be disruptive), "the
only line you'll be delivering is 'the Pringles are on aisle three,’" you
know you want to settle in with this series for a very long time. However,
like the Hollywood depicted here, your dreams will be shattered to shreds.
When interviewed by a
journalist about what he would do if he could no longer produce films,
Dragon replies, "I'd kill myself. Or do TV. I don't know which is worse."
With Action's cancellation, we found out the hard way. And at the
same time, we'll never know.
popentertainment.com. All rights reserved.
Posted: June 27, 2007.