Balancing acts -- Stars like Whoopi Goldberg and Sylvester Stallone are changing their schtick to keep in the game

By Bret Watson and Dave Karger
Updated October 25, 1996 at 04:00 AM EDT

In his search for respect, he’s said goodbye to cartoonish heroes à la Judge Dredd and Demolition Man. Instead, the erstwhile Rambo, 50, has teamed up with Miramax for the mini-budgeted police drama Copland, due in ’97. Stallone still has a multimillion-dollar deal with action-loving studio Universal, so the trick will be finding smart thrillers (like the upcoming tunnel adventure Daylight) that satisfy both parties’ interests.

After stinkers like Eddie and Bogus, the dreadlocked one, 47, would appear to be dud-locked. Yet the offers keep coming: Her Wall Street comedy The Associate opens this month; come February she’ll step into Nathan Lane’s lead role in Broadway’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum; and though she says she won’t host the next Academy Awards, her dramatic turn in Rob Reiner’s Ghosts of Mississippi (December) might lead to a different kind of date with Oscar. Just spare us Sister Act 3, okay?

He also wanted off the action-hero express, so he tore up his ticket for Speed 2. A dicey move, considering his recent bus-less vehicles Chain Reaction and Feeling Minnesota stalled. Then again, the actor, 32, will reportedly earn close to $11 million to star in Taylor Hackford’s upcoming drama Devil’s Advocate with Al Pacino, easily enough to finance a tour for his rock band, Dogstar.

Since the Oscar-winning Pulp Fiction, it seems the only thing the 33-year-old dynamo has directed his attention toward is dazzling paramour Mira Sorvino. Okay, he did direct an episode of ER and a segment of the vanity flop Four Rooms. (We’ll politely pass on his acting turns.) He’s now writing an adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s Rum Punch — maybe that will sober him up.

Hollywood wondered whether the producer, 51, could thrive without his tireless partner Don Simpson (who died of a drug overdose shortly after the duo disbanded). Bruckheimer’s prospects seemed as solid as The Rock‘s $133 million summer gross, but his next action-adventure, Con Air (due next spring), will show whether he can truly succeed at flying solo.

Once a wunderkind who founded Uptown Records, the ex-rapper, 36, has yet to turn the beat around as head of ailing Motown Records. But let’s face it: Resuscitating the same company that ticked off its biggest stars, Boyz II Men, by denying them a vanity label is a tall order. The Boyz eventually scored one from Sony, called Stonecreek Records, but remain a Motown act. Still, Harrell had better find fresh talent fast if he’s going to stay in Hitsville USA.

Ted Turner is fighting to keep his creation, New Line Cinema, from being sold by Time Warner, but can the conglomerate realistically make room for so independent a producer and distributor as New Line’s Chairman-CEO? Though Shaye, 56, will continue to distinguish his studio from the big boys (like Warner) by producing edgier material (Set It Off, Boogie Nights), he’s destined to butt heads with Warner Bros. cochairs Daly and Semel. Both studios are now planning Formula One racing movies, with neither one showing signs of hitting the brakes.