Brett Ratner’s talent, such as it is, is bullshit.
The director, whose most recent piece of pandering, formulaic pap, After the Sunset, will probably be number two at the box office this weekend, could comfortably be described as a bullshit artist, or, more charitably, a complete and total bullshit artiste.
If his critics are to be believed (and in this case, they are), his artistry doesn’t lie in filmmaking, a craft for which he is frightfully unskilled, yet tenaciously and gainfully employed. Ratner has no particular intuition for camera placement, editing, or working with actors: His films are about as enjoyable as a vigorous session of C.B.T.
What Ratner is good at—what he unquestionably excels at—is bullshit. Take the mini profile of him in Saturday’s New York Times ‘Arts’ section, A Hollywood Early Bloomer, Bringing It All Back Home, by Lola Ogunnaike, which is chockablock with Ratner’s bald-faced lies and egomaniacal bullshit.
Early in the piece, Ogunnaike (who deserves combat pay for enduring the director’s unctuous “charms”) tells us that Ratner is 35 years old, but later in the piece, she writes that:
It was at N.Y.U. that Mr. Ratner met [Russell] Simmons, who had just founded Def Jam Records. Mr. Ratner directed all of the fledgling label’s music videos, which got him more work from other labels. At the height of his video career, Mr. Ratner was working with acts like Mary J. Blige, L. L. Cool J and Madonna.
This, is, quite simply, bullshit. Def Jam records was a “fledgling label” in the mid-eighties (it was formed in 1984 by Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons), when Ratner was all of 15. Yes, Ratner has the adrenaline-fueled ambition (and culturally stereotypical vulgarian impulses) of Budd Schulberg’s ur-Hollywood striver Sammy Glick, but he sure as hell was not directing rap videos at 15.
Ratner’s completely dubious claim to having been an extra in Brian DePalma’s Scarface (“That’s when I first decided that this is what I wanted to do… I didn’t want to be Al Pacino. I wanted to be Brian DePalma, the guy telling Al Pacino what to do,” the director tells Ongunnaike) also sounds like some self-mythologizing bullshit. Are we really supposed to be believe that at 13, Ratner was cast as an extra in the sine qua non proto-gangsta, hip hop film and that he managed to see Brian DePalma directing Al Pacino up close? I guess that’s where he got the skills to start directing rap videos two years later. (Further blurring the boundaries of truth and self-created fiction, Ratner’s name appears in the IMDB entry for the film, which lists him as “Man lying on a raft in pool”: Seems rather unlikely that Ratner was playing a man at 13. Since the IMDB is littered with nakedly self-, or publicist-penned bios and entries for roles that never existed, it’s not too hard to imagine how this entry made it into the internet’s unofficial film encyclopedia.)
I could go on about what a bullshit artist Ratner is (I recall a great New York Observer piece that told of how he charmed his way into NYU, scammed himself through the door of a model apartment, where he met one time girlfriend Rebecca Gayheart, and how he finagled some money out of Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment while still an undergrad, but that article is from the pre-Web era and lost in the cgi.bin of history), but the joke is most definitely on us, the movie-going public.
Nothing can stop the torrent of his reeking (but profitable) career. The jabs from critics, who are near-universal in their disdain for his films (“silly adolescent stuff,” The Chicago Reader, “The movie grows progressively more routine in quarter-hour increments, eventually collapsing under the weight of its own insignificance,” USA Today, ad infinitum) can keep people from seeing his lowest common denominator jiggle fests. High profile failures (Superman, anyone?) seem to roll off him without leaving a mark. Not even his own pathetically adolescent, Robert Evans manqué-by-way-of-the Playboy mansion sensibility (“What’s the name of that Latin actress, the one with the big boobs? Rosario Dawson. She did the sexiest stuff—cleavage all the way!,” he told Lloyd Grove last week sounding like Maxim magazine’s entire readership speaking as one) will sink him in an increasingly coarse, unintelligent film environment. Nothing, it seems, can stop a striving little macher like Ratner from running.
What Makes Sammy Run does not, after all, end like that other great work about a little man with big ambition, (Schulberg’s mentor) F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby: Sammy Glick winds up in the executive suite (“Now Sammy’s career meteored through my mind in all its destructive brilliance, his blitzkreig against his fellow man…”), not bleeding from a gunshot wound in the swimming pool of his rented mansion.
Somehow I see bigger (but not necessarily better) things for Ratner in the future. That doesn’t mean we can’t call bullshit on him when his own self-mythologizing gets in the way of the truth. Maybe instead of whatever piece of shit he’s squeezing out next, he can do yet another un-called for sub-par remake: Hey, I even have a suggestion.