By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com March 18, 2011 at 1:02AM
The lament of the last fifteen years or so of Robert De Niro's career is a common one; the actor for the most part having traded in the challenging performances he made his name on in the 1970s and 1980s for a series of lukewarm comedies and pot-boiler thrillers. His last truly great performance was in "Jackie Brown" in 1997 and, while he does occasionally do good work -- last year's "Stone" was his best for ages -- audiences don't seem to care when he does. But the actor doesn't exactly help his own cause.
The latest case is a once-mooted reteam with Bradley Cooper -- his co-star on this weekend's firmly OK "Limitless" -- on a Jonathan Demme-helmed comedy-drama, "Honeymoon With Harry." The project which was originally written by Paul Haggis, and nearly got made half-a-decade ago with Vince Vaughn and Jack Nicholson, follows an alcoholic (Cooper) who reforms his ways after falling in love with a girl. When she dies on the eve of their wedding, he relapses, crossing paths with her father (De Niro) on the honeymoon they should have taken.
Demme came on board the project last summer, alongside the two stars. Only a few weeks back, things seemed promising; Demme had brought on his "Rachel Getting Married" writer Jenny Lumet for a polish. The good news, according to Deadline, is that Lumet's new draft was well received by most, including backers New Line and Cooper. The bad news is, for whatever reason, it apparently didn't pass muster with De Niro, who has something of a reputation for indecisiveness.
A fed-up Demme decided it wasn't worth waiting for De Niro's approval, and tried to convince Cooper that they should re-cast the father's role and move ahead with the project regardless. But Cooper "didn't want to look disloyal" and declined. The studio wasn't able to reconcile Demme and De Niro, and the director walked off the project, leaving the film dead in the water at the studio. Demme's currently working on a CBS pilot from "Erin Brokovich" scribe Susannah Grant, with Patrick Wilson and Jennifer Ehle, but may reportedly try to get the film set up at another studio once that's done.
It's important to note the source -- Nikki Finke -- so there's almost certainly spin here, to some degree, and there's bound to be another side of the story; it's possible that De Niro's concerns about the script are legitimate. However, we have a little more faith in Demme's script-reading abilities than the man who decided that "Righteous Kill" and "Hide and Seek" were worthwhile ventures. Either way, it's sad that the promising-sounding project isn't happening, for the moment at least.