Over at Slate, Kim Masters wrote Wednesday about the Hollywood orchestration that resulted in Universal's deal to make Bruno, Sacha Baron Cohen's $42 million mockumentary follow-up to Borat. But last week in New York, at a luncheon for the winding-down Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, another potential Cohen film prospect came up during a chat with writer/director Francis Veber.
Veber, a French institution responsible for two generations of classic farces from La Cage Aux Folles to The Closet, was in town for the New York premiere of his latest film, The Valet. He's also one of the most (if not the most) remade filmmaker in Europe -- and with the exception of The Birdcage, which worked primarily because Mike Nichols and Elaine May left the jokes and their cast alone, those remakes have all pretty much bombed. That didn't stop DreamWorks from snagging the rights to The Valet for the Farrelly Brothers last April. "My agent called me and said the script is ready," Veber told me. "It's supposed to be good; I have not read it."
Of course, the DreamWorks/Veber track record includes the long-stalled remake of Veber's 1998 classic The Dinner Game; as far back as 2003, in his Ali G days, Cohen was actually attached to play Veber's hapless, recurring hero Francois Pignon, who is invited to dinner in a competition among wealthy snobs to see who can bring the most incompetent fool to their party. Naturally, Pignon commences ruining his host's life from there. But now, Veber said, the script is ready -- as in, it was finished last week and is finally on its way to the decidedly more high-profile Cohen.
"He wanted to do it!" Veber said. "That doesn't mean he will do it; I don't know how the screenwriter is. My agent called me yesterday."
Still cast as Pignon?
"Pignon, yes," he said. "And so far, it's him who's shown an interest for it. We don't have a cast ready. And it would be Jay Roach, if the screenplay is accepted, who would direct."
This is especially interesting considering how mean-spirited the humor in The Dinner Game is often perceived to be. I asked Veber if he thought that problematic for Cohen, who was still coming off the mean-spirited rap for Borat.
"What I have seen about him in Borat is that he's an innocent idiot," Veber replied. "He's innocent, you know? The terrible things he's doing, he's doing for good. He loves people. And that's why it's so funny. If he were mean, which is not the case -- he would be trying to hurt people. He's hurting them because he's clumsy. He's from Kazakhstan, you know? He looks a lot like Pignon. When Pignon arrives in this publisher's apartment, he destroys the life of this guy -- with good feelings, all the time."
Well, sure, but when Borat shows up at these families' homes where he stays or eats dinner, he totally takes advantage of them. It's actually a thoroughly fascinating casting parallel.
"That's why I was pleased to hear he was interested," Veber said. "And I'm not surprised. I'm not surprised. What was a pain was when I received a fax from my producer a few years ago saying that Woody Allen wanted to perform the jerk. You know, the idiot. And people were saying he was yesterday's news. Talking about Woody Allen!"
Well, at the time The Dinner Game was released, you know --
"Well, yes, maybe at that time he was," Veber said, shrugging. "Because now you have Match Point and the others."
I know! Penelope Cruz!
"I'm so happy for him. I think he's a genius."
Anyhow, look for more here from Veber regarding The Valet as its April 20 release date approaches. And maybe something regarding The Dinner Game -- or, as DreamWorks so classily retitled it, Dinner For Schmucks -- if Cohen happens to sneak something in before Bruno. But at those prices, don't count on it.
Posted at March 15, 2007 2:14 PM
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