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Okay, We Get It: Please, Everybody; Let’s Not Encourage This Tom Cruise “Les Grossman” Character

June 10, 2010

2008 called - it wants its funny cameo back.

I am reminded of a 1999 episode of Spongebob Squarepants called “Ripped Pants,” wherein the undersea character accidentally rips his pants and discovers that everyone finds it quite funny. Increasingly drunk on the laughter he gets each time he rips his pants (he even develops a catchphrase of “Oops! I ripped my pants!”), he drives the joke into the ground, but not before reaching the heights of stardom with his one-note routine. Eventually, as is the norm in the fickle celebrity business, everyone soon tires of the gag and stops laughing.

Truly, it’s a good comic that knows when to pull the plug on a lucrative character; comic characters rarely have the shelf life of, say, action heros like James Bond or Indiana Jones. Mike Myers wisely knew when to hang up Austin Powers and Wayne Campbell, Will Ferrell still hasn’t revisted Ron Burgundy and Eddie Murphy repeatedly refuses a new Beverly Hills Cop. But occasionally, not unlike Spongebob Squarepants, an actor grabs a hold of character and runs it into the ground. Such seems to be the case with today’s news that Paramount and MTV have greenlit a feature film based on Tom Cruise’s character Les Grossman, a believed-to-be sendup of Harvey Weinstein in Ben Stiller’s 2008 comedy Tropic Thunder.

For those of you who may have missed it, Stiller’s clever action spoof  Thunder featured a cameo by a heavily made-up Cruise as Hollywood producer Les Grossman, balding and hairy and fat and with a Star of David hanging around his neck. At the time, the joke was a lark — as funny as it was unexpected, with Cruise being a good sport and jumping into the character with aplomb. Soon and sadly, however, Cruise’s bitpart threatened to overrun the buzz on Tropic Thunder itself. Grossman became less of a happy surprise in the movie and more of a media-adored high point of the film, with later Thunder commercials featuring the character heavily (even though he likely has less than six or seven minutes of screen time in total). What began as one of Stiller’s greatest accomplishments as a comic and writer was quickly becoming the “I can’t believe Tom Cruise did that!” movie. And all the Access Hollywoods and Extras featured Tom Cruise’s giggling mug, as Cruise himself even seemed to say “I can’t believe I’m Tom Cruise and I did that! What a hoot, right?”

Full disclosure: despite all his weird, crazy eccentricities, I actually like Tom Cruise a great deal. Sure, I think in the last five years he has turned into somewhat of a parody of himself, and it’s hard to watch a movie starring Cruise these days in which you’re not viscerally aware it’s Tom Cruise and not, say, a duplicitous one-eyed Nazi. But over the years Cruise has made some phenomenal films, from The Firm to A Few Good Men and Rain Man. I’ll even cop to being a sucker for Cocktail when I run across it on a Saturday afternoon.

But the fact that MTV brought back the Les Grossman character to begin with, over two years later (and probably only because Cruise has Knight and Day coming out later this summer) was an unnecessary rehashing to begin with. And now we’re getting an entire movie of this character we now have, what, fourteen minutes total of having seen? The entire endeavor sounds less like a good idea and more like Cruise being that guy who gets a laugh once and suddenly thinks he’s the funny guy in the room. It was a great one-shot thing, and funny at the time, but let’s move along. The more we laugh at this bit, the more we’re clearly going to get of it. The beauty of the best comedy is that it knows when it’s worn out its welcome and finds something new to explore; but at the end of the day, Les Grossman is just Tom Cruise’s own self-inflated pants-ripping excursion.

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