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Vegas movie magic can be nightmare

Nov 27, 2001 7:12 AM

An out-of-town magazine has a piece on Las Vegas movies this month wherein, they, like almost everyone else in the industry, either gush over the remake of “Ocean’s Eleven” with George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, et all, or rip it apart. The mag in question rips it.

Many of the critics who attack it, do so because they are purists, who feel that a remake of a classic about Vegas starring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr., should be treated with some reverence and left alone. I agree.

Within the piece, the magazine did praise “Viva,” “Honeymoon In Vegas” and “Vegas Vacation.”

They knock Hunter S. Thompson’s “Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas,” “Casino,” and “Leaving Las Vegas” (for which Nicolas Cage won an Oscar). Good thing, because he also starred in “ConAir,” which should have won Mad Magazine’s Alfred E. Newman Just Plain Dumb award! It ranks just above another recent movie the magazine overlooked, “Showgirls.”

Obviously, not having much perspective to draw on, they also omitted such classics as “Looking To Get Out” (with Ann-Margret and Jon Voight) and the biggest of the big, “fah getta bout it” flicks, “One From The Heart” (Frederic Forrest and Teri Garr). The former was made in 1979, the latter in 1981.

It was “One From The Heart,” though, that may have the most anecdotal interest. Not only did it open and close within two weeks of Valentine’s Day back in 82, it was also one of the biggest losers Francis Ford Coppola ever had. In fact, it almost single-handedly shut down his Zoetrope Studios.

The film’s ties to Las Vegas, however, continue to this day.

Few, in attendance, knew that at the last ShoWest Convention here, the keynote speaker, producer Armyan Bernstein, wrote “One From The Heart” over 20 years ago, while he was a screenwriter for MGM Studios. Now he is a successful and influential motion picture producer. Included among his credits are “Spy Game,” “Air Force One,” “For the Love of the Game,” “The Family Man,” “13 Days” and “The Hurricane.”

Poor Armyan is still taking hits, though, when it comes to Vegas. The poor guy definitely deserves a break, though, when it comes to “One From The Heart.” He spent several weeks in and around locations in Vegas before the film was made and had written the film as a light-drama, love story about two non-celebrity, local folks, who became lovers in Vegas.

When Coppola, who was contracted to direct the film, came in and saw the possibilities that the stages of Vegas offered for a musical, the son of Broadway’s Carmine Coppola, decided to fulfill a personal dream of making a movie musical. He changed Bernstein’s script to a musical, but for yet incomprehensible reasons never even shot it in Vegas. He decided to recreate parts of Vegas on a Hollywood lot.

It all spelled disaster for the flick, Coppola, Zoetrope, Garr, Forrest and most of all, Bernstein. It was supposed to be Bernstein’s big break. It ended up being his big (and only) bust. But, that was thanks to Coppola, who did not have his father’s feel or talent for musical theater. Just the fact that he chose to do it in a sound studio rather than on the fabulous stages of Las Vegas, proved that.

Right after the flick opened and shut like one of Lance Burton’s trap doors, he left his Mulholland Drive home in depression for a long stay in Europe before he came back to Hollywood to pick up the pieces.

And, of course, history will show he picked them up quite well. Not only is he now a huge movie mogul in Hollywood but “One From The Heart” has become a video-rental, cult classic. And, like our own Liberace, he is now crying”¦all the way to the bank.

Attempting film projects, like almost anything else in Las Vegas, has usually proven to be either a bankroll buster or that one big score. And, as one Hollywood bigwig learned, on occasion, a bit of both.