The pairing of the Hugh Hefner biopic with director and Hefwannabe Brett Ratner (pictured, right; Hefner, left) sounds like a match made in Hollywood heaven, orat least in Ari Gold’s office. Apparently, überproducer Brian Grazer (The Da Vinci Code) has been trying to get a biopic of the Playboy guru off the ground for years but couldn’t come up with a workable screenplay until scribe John Hoffman came along. (Leave it to a guy whose last movie was about dogs from outer space to figure out how to make this hound hunt.) Alas, this means we’ll never see the aborted Oliver Stone version (it could have been his wooziest biopic since The Doors) or the musical version by 8 Mile scribe Scott Silver. (If only Elvis were alive tosing the show-stopping “In the Grotto.”)
As it turns out, Ratner had never made a pilgrimage to the Playboy Mansion before, and his grasp of Hef history is shaky. (He praises the mogul for “[putting] James Brown on his show Playboy After Dark when they didn’t put black performers on national television,” but Playboy After Dark launched in 1969, well after Bill Cosby and Diahann Carroll had become stars of prime-time series.) Nonetheless, if his recent Entourage cameo is any indication, Ratner has been emulating Hef’s personal example for ages, and if anyone can grasp the Playboy paradox of aspiring to classiness while pandering to the baser instincts of millions, it’s Ratner.
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Still, what would a Hef biopic looklike? Where’s the dramatic arc? The man hasn’t gotten out of his pajamas since around1970. Before that, yes, he accomplished much and had a profound influence on American culture and society, until his product was eclipsed by coarser rivals and hardcore porn. Drama-wise, he’s been in kind of a holding pattern for the last37 years.
Finally, who should play Hef? My colleague Wook Kim reminds me that Cliff Robertson did a good job as Hefner in Star 80 back in 1983, but who’s fit to wear his smoking jacket now? Most actors who are the right age (Luke Wilson? Josh Duhamel?) seem too boyish and immature; Rob Lowe or Charlie Sheen, both seasoned by real-life sex scandals, could do it, but they may be on the wrong side of 40. So, I’m at a loss. Help Brian Grazer out, folks!