An Alan Smithee Film

     Illuminated smoke wreaths the mean L.A. streets, and a dark shadow is cast across a tenement wall. It's a big man with a big gun. A cop on a mission of menace. On closer inspection, the broad figure turns out to be that of Sylvester Stallone, last seen wearing a badge in the disastrous Judge Dredd and subject of a recent high profile cover story in which he swore off action flicks. A second, much smaller, much darker person joins him. It's the woman with the attitude and the locks, Whoopi Goldberg, last seen toting a gun and a badge in Fatal Beauty, the woman who turned down the lead in Speed, and might be voted least likely lady in Hollywood to star in a buddy cop pic. A third man steps from the night. The untamed mane and bulbous nose are as instantly identifiable as Kirk Douglas' chin, Streisand's nose. It's Hong Kong hero Jackie Chan, last seen by American audiences in Supercop and perhaps the only one of the three you'd expect to be on this street at this time of night shooting this kind of movie. So which project can have brought this unlikely trio together, and who is this 'Alan Smithee' guy, anyway?

     An Alan Smithee Film is the brainchild of screenwriter Joe Eszterhaus, he of Basic Instinct and Showgirls fame. The movie takes its name from the nom du filme used by helmers whose films have, in the opinion of the Director's Guild, had their projects interfered with, by studio or star, to such an extent that they deserve to have their real names removed from the credits. Eszterhaus, who has been, it must be said, a major beneficiary of tinseltown's largesse, designed the movie as a downmarket version of The Player, Robert Altman's acerbic look at the inner workings of Hollywood. Filming began in L.A. last November 14th, and the plot revolves around a paranoid director, former Python star Eric Idle, who fears that his latest work, a major action flick, will be taken out of his hands. He then steals his own film, and the chase is on. Dozens of movie veterans from both in front of and behind the camera are set to appear, and the stars of the film-within-a-film, Stallone, Goldberg and Chan, play themselves in extended cameo roles. For Whoopi, a change of pace, for Sly, a return to a familiar genre, for Chan, his bona fide American movie debut.

Jackie with director, Arthur Hiller

Ironically, AASF is being produced by Andrew Vajna, a Hungarian businessman who made his fortune in Hong Kong, subsequently moved to America, and produced a string of blockbuster films starring the likes of Schwarzenegger and Stallone. The film's director, veteran Hollywood helmer Arthur Hiller, is himself a former president of the very Guild that awards the Alan Smithee sobriquet to deserving cases. Jackie Chan was brought in on the project by his new Hollywood representation, the William Morris agency. Just after filming commenced, screenwriter Eszterhaus left WM to return to his longtime agency, International Creative Management. Eszterhaus and producer Ben Myron are believed to be responsible for putting together the film's extraordinary cast list.

Ryan O'Neal, Sly, Whoopi and Jackie

Fans of vintage Americana will have fun spotting the many famous faces on display in a film that has more notorious nanies then a supermarket tabloid. The movie marks the return to the screen of actor-turned-producer Robert Evans, who was originally cast in the Harvey Keitel role opposite Jack Nicholson in "The Two Jakes", and the debut of O.J. Simpson trial lawyer Robert Shapiro. Screenwriter Shane Black, last seen as one of Amold Schwarzenegger's commando team in "Predator", plays the author of the pilfered flick, and famed chat show host Larry King plays, well, Larry King. Also on hand are rappers Chuck D and Coolie, faded Hollywood star Ryan O'Neal and, schedule allowing, Eszterhaus himself. Richard Gere is also rumoured to be putting in an appearance, and with Gere here, can The Dali Lama be far behind?

    Joel Silver once observed that the film-within-a-film in The Player, starring Bruce Willis and Julia Roberts, would have made a lot more money than the movie in which it was featured. The same may be true of Alan Smithee. Sadly, it's unlikely that Stallone, Goldberg, and Chan will combine forces again. Sly shows his dramatic, rather than muscle, weight in the forthcoming Copland, and just shot another cameo, this one in support of his brother Frank, for The Good Life. Whoopi is likely to stick to comedy, leaving Jackie the only bona fide action hero of the three. With Confucious Brown, which would have co-starred Chan and Wesley Snipes, mired in development hell, it looks like Jackie's next Hollywood venture might be "Rush Hour", in which he would star with Martin Bad Boys Lawrence. Chan already shot a cameo for the latter's hit "The Martin Lawrence Show".