The Popcorn King

Rush Hour 3 director Brett Ratner has been called a fauxteur, a womanizer and, worse, over budget. Why you should take him seriously anyway.

"I think there's a very dangerous mindset that invades a lot of people who are successful, whether it's hubris or, as a psychiatrist friend of mine has characterized it, 'acquired situational narcissism,'" says Shaye. "As one of his mentors, I've cautioned Brett a lot about believing his own press — be it praiseful or critical. In both cases, you have to remember . . . let me give you a metaphor: In ancient Rome, when a General came back from winning a great campaign and walked down the red carpet to meet Ceasar, and thousands of people were standing along the border screaming and shouting and bands were playing, there was someone whose job it was to walk next to the General and whisper in his ear, 'You're only a man, you're only a man.' Brett is only a young man at the end of the day, and he will mature, I think and I expect, with great humility."

As Ratner and I walk to his car — no screaming minions, no brass band — he tells me that he feels like he's lived a blessed and happy life, and that thinking about it gives him a touch of anxiety, as if he were waiting for the other shoe to drop, or for his carriage to turn back into a pumpkin. "All I ever dreamed about was being a director," Ratner says. "And now I'll see people I haven't seen for 20 years and they'll be like, 'You told me you were going to be a movie director when you were a kid.' The only thing I regret ..."

His voice trails off, and then Ratner starts talking about The Family Man, his 2000 romantic fantasy about a successful New York investment banker and ladies man (played by Nicolas Cage) who is offered a momentary glimpse of a parallel life in which he has less material wealth, but is happily married to his high school sweetheart and is the father of two young children. (It was, as usual with Ratner, a popular hit and a critical turkey.) At the time he was making the film, Ratner says, he was in the process of breaking up with Gayheart, whom he'd dated since film school, who supported him in the early days of his career, and to whom he was once engaged. Then he gets back to what he'd started to tell me before, about the one thing he regrets in his life — or not even that he regrets, but about which he wishes. Like Cage's character in the film, he'd love to get a glimpse of what things would have been like if he'd stayed with Gayheart and had kids who, theoretically, could have been teenagers by now.

It's then that I realize why Ratner tells people that The Family Man is his most personal film. I also realize that, even after the four months I've spent drifting in and out of his orbit, Ratner remains to me a bevy of contradictions — the critically lambasted moviemaker who has passed on ostensibly more prestigious projects (including Memoirs of a Geisha and Ocean's Eleven), the alleged narcissist who says he'd do anything for his friends and who recently moved his grandparents into his guest house, and the tabloid playboy who may be a closeted monogamist. Is he a cad or a mensch? The world's heavyweight box-office champion or a future Oscar winner? Is he all of those things at once or none of them at all? Or is Brett Ratner, like so many of the rest of us, still figuring out just exactly who he is?

"Am I Orson Welles?" he asks. "Obviously not. But 50 years from now, who knows how, as a person, I'll have grown. I've already changed, from being a 26-year-old kid to a 38-year-old guy — I'm not a man yet, really. But as I get older, who knows how my experiences and my knowledge, this past 12 years making movies, how that's all going to affect the movies that I make? I know that the life I lived from 16 to 26 allowed me to make a movie like Rush Hour, so now let's see ..."

Who/what: Brett Ratner|Jackie Chan|Chris Tucker|New Line Cinema

cutlines: for brettratner1: i>Rush Hour 3/i> director Brett Ratner and star Chris Tucker look over co-star Roman Polanski's past with the man himself (right).

for the other photo: Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan do their thing. Again.

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