The ugly portrait of Hollywood stupidity and hubris — “hey, we’ll figure out the script on set, no problem!” — is a slightly antiquated one given the rise of successful improvisation, not only in comedy which was the norm, but big-budget narrative (see “Iron Man” where Jon Favreau and co. literally figured out scenes moments before they were shot), but can still be occasionally framed as a cautionary tale. See the latest example: “Men In Black 3” or “Men In Black 3D” whatever you want to call it. Sony‘s very expensive tentpole revival 10 years after the fact (“MIB2” was released in 2002) has been shooting on and off since December and is still adding new members to its cast.
The latest addition to the cast is a good one: “A Serious Man” actor Michael Stuhlbarg, who has logged many a hard and long hour on Broadway, including the lead in “In Bruges” director Martin McDonagh‘s brilliant, pitch-black play “The Pillowman,” before the Coen Brothers made him the star of their aforementioned 2009 opus.
Not much is known about his role other than he plays the character named “Griffin” who was originally earmarked for “District 9” star Sharlto Copley, but a deal never materialized last fall. For those keeping score of this ballooning-out-of-control project (see more in a second), this does give up one important, and perhaps optimistic bit of information.
As you’re probably well aware by now the “Men In Black 3” script has been polished more times than Sony/Columbia cares to admit*. Jeff Nathanson (”Catch Me If You Can”), David Koepp (”Spider-Man”) and “Tropic Thunder” writer Etan Cohen have all worked on the screenplay as well as mystery writer Mike Soccio, who has been penning revisions at the behest of his former “The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air” boss, Will Smith himself.
The fact that a character from the 2010 versions of the screenplay still exists perhaps gives marginal hope that the ever-evolving script hasn’t mutated to grotesque levels.
To recap in case you tuned out (and we don’t blame you): the studio had the bright idea to shoot the picture in two installments. One set in the present, shot late last year, and then production would take a month or two break and shoot the second half of the picture set in the past (yes, there’s a key time travel element to the story, we have the script lying around somewhere, but honestly haven’t bothered to read it). Why the split? Well, because the Sony/Columbia braintrust was happy with the first half of the picture, but felt that the second half of the film — likely that tricky second and third act — needed work; and much more work than they expected considering the skyrocketing budget and shooting delays that are costing everyone by the hour.
Filming is now back on as evinced by recent set photos of Josh Brolin playing the younger version of Tommy Lee Jones. Also starring Emma Thompson, Jermaine Clement, and Alice Eve, the minor good news for Sony is that at least they have a year for the picture to work its ugly self out — it doesn’t hit screens until May 25th, 2012.
Directed, yet again, by Barry Sonnenfeld, “Men In Black 3” has already soared past the $200 million budget mark and has lost actors like Alec Baldwin to its protracted shooting schedule. We can’t say we want the film to fail, but we’ll admit when unnecessary studio tentpoles engineered solely to make money teeter on the edge of disaster a trace of schadenfreude does tend to escape from behind our moustaches and mischievous grins.
*Though to be fair in the end, it’s nothing compared to the “A-Team” and the upcoming “Akira” project that has seen its script “contributors” reach double digit numbers. [THR]