Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Long And Short Of It

by guest blogger Jeff Cohen

Tom_Cruise News came last week that Tom Cruise may (or may not) have optioned one of Lee Child's Jack Reacher books and may (or may not) be planning on playing the ex-military cop and bedder of many (temporarily) uniformed women in a movie. And as with most such news (as when Katherine Heigl was cast as Stephanie Plum), the immediate reaction from fans of the book--who have been casting the movie in their heads for years--was negative. Not Cruise! they blogged, tweeted, posted and probably carved into cave walls. Anybody but Cruise!

Now personally, I don't really care who plays Jack Reacher in a movie. I've read many of Lee Child's books, and think he is remarkably good at what he does. I also think Lee is a very nice man and a mensch, and he should take as much of Tom Cruise's money as he can get and buy himself another great sports car (at least) and a season box at Yankee Stadium, or another house, or something. He deserves every dime.

And I can understand how fans of a book series can get themselves into a snit when someone is cast in the film of said book series who doesn't fit their concept of the character. If I am ever lucky enough to have a film production company option (or better, buy!) one of my novels for a film, I will have a more personal stake in the casting, but if I cash the (hopefully large) check, I'll have absolutely no say in the matter, as any author short of J.K. Rowling can tell you. I get it: fans read the books, they picture the character--in whom they are sometimes VERY emotionally invested--a certain way, and they are disappointed when the actor(s) involved aren't in that mode. It's upsetting.

But the sticking point here, from what I've read online, is not centered on whether Mr. Cruise can handle the role from an acting standpoint. He's actually a very good actor with a lot of range (See A Few Good Men and then Risky Business and then Rain Man). Sure, his public persona is sort of nuts, but find me a centered, normal actor whose name ISN'T Tom Hanks. Yeah, that's what I mean. They're all nuts.

No, the problem here isn't Cruise's acting. It's not even his nuttiness, as far as I can tell. The problem here is that Tom Cruise is short.

Short people Before you start tuning up, yes, I'm aware that Jack Reacher is described as very tall and powerfully built in the books. Guess what? Bernie Rhodenbarr isn't described as looking much like Whoopi Goldberg in Lawrence Block's books, either. Moses? Not a thing like Charlton Heston. Benjamin Braddock couldn't be described as looking less like Dustin Hoffman if he were described as looking like Whoopi Goldberg. Movies adapt books; they don't simply transcribe them. And actors, bless  'em, are supposed to be able to make a role their own.

But I don't think that's what the problem is here. I think the problem is that people don't like short leading men. In fact, people are not comfortable generally with short men. I can tell you this because, at five-foot-five, I have had a decent amount of experience with how people treat short men. They think we're adorable and have about as much respect for us as they do for fat people and cricket players. Short, fat, cricket players? You don't want to know.

Because it is no longer politically correct to make fun of people based on race, religion or gender (and it shouldn't be, just to be clear), there are few groups left that everyone can agree to mock. Overweight people? Clearly they have no self control and deserve our scorn. Short men? Never grew up, did they? Not to be taken seriously. Members of Congress? Okay. You've got me there.

I can't stand New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and I live in his state, so you can take my word for it. But I will NEVER make a fat joke about Christie. That moves us off the point--he should be mocked for his terrible policies, not his weight.

Tom Cruise? Maybe he'd make a horrendous Jack Reacher. It's entirely possible. But don't tell me it's because he's short.
Uninvited-ghost Jeff Cohen writes mysteries about people who, come to think of it, are often below average height.  Jeff's very good friend E.J. Copperman has a new book out, the 2nd Haunted Guesthouse Mystery AN UNINVITED GHOST