Push It Real Good: ‘Expendables 3′ Leads the Hard Sell in Cannes

The cast of 'The Expendables 3' took a leisurely ride down the Croisette in Cannes this weekend. (Photo via Getty Images)

The cast of ‘The Expendables 3′ took a leisurely ride down the Croisette in Cannes this weekend. (Photo via Getty Images)

CANNES, France — Talk about a Hollywood invasion. Celebrity-laden tanks rolled down the Crosiette over the weekend, with the gleeful cast of The Expendables 3 reporting for duty in gelded army vehicles (the turrets were removed for safety reasons). Sylvester Stallone, Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford, Wesley Snipes, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Statham and a few of their less-boldface co-stars were all smiles as adoring fans thronged around them. Even by the standards of jaded festival attendees who have seen everything, this was a sight to behold.

“Harrison!” “Han Solo!”  yelled the delighted photo-hungry crowd, some pushing baby strollers as they circled the tanks. Everyone’s cell phones were out for the ultimate muscle car pictorial—even the geriatric action heroes were shooting selfies along with pics of the masses (their driver was wearing a GoPro camera on his helmet). “I’ve never done this before,” pointy-bearded Gibson mumbled to a quietly smiling Ford. Schwarzenegger certainly had: in 1993, to promote box-office-dud The Last Action Hero, Columbia Pictures bankrolled a three-story inflatable effigy of him and anchored it right across from the Carlton Hotel. The Expendables 3 opens in the fall, but the all-star cast was happy to fly in for the publicity stunt—not to mention a chance to stop by the splashy Vanity Fair party at the posh Hôtel du Cap the night before.

In Cannes, perception is everything and spin is king. Abel Ferrara’s Welcome to New York, his lurid take on the Dominique Strauss-Kahn affair with Gérard Depardieu as the Gallic horndog accused of raping a Manhattan Sofitel maid, was rejected by all of the festival’s four official venues. But that didn’t stop the film’s producers from paying to book a few screening times in one of the local multiplexes—and then issuing a press release touting it as a special “Out of Selection berth.”

Russell Crowe popped into town to try and raise money for his directing debut The Water Diviner, while newly-minted Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey was here with director Gus Van Sant to pitch the admittedly hard-sell project Sea of Trees, a suicide drama set in Japan that needs $25-28 million in outside financing to proceed.

But this week’s publicity stunts, dodgy premieres and financial pas de deux don’t hold a candle to the shenanigans that the Cannon Film Group brought to the Riviera 30 years ago. The most shamelessly entertaining documentary in Cannes this year is The Go-Go Boys, Hilla Medalia’s raucous account of Israeli cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus and how they turned a B-picture grindhouse into one of the biggest indie studios of the 1980s. Most famous for cultivating a lowbrow roster of moneymaking hits with the likes of Charles Bronson, Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude Van Damme, Cannon became an international powerhouse by using Cannes as a barnstorming fundraiser for its coffers, pioneering the art of pre-sales, ad-page carpet-bombing in the trades, and making gonzo deals on the fly (most famously committing Jean-Luc Godard to direct a film version of King Lear by drawing up a contract on a dinner napkin). “I cannot allow dialogue that lasts more than a page,” Golan harangues a long-faced screenwriter during one festival visit. In 1986 alone Cannon brought 46 films to Cannes—and then, after a decade of spectacular spending on scattered hits, flamed out.

Cannes always attracts a rash of rash showboaters. But slow and steady also wins the race, and Foxcatcher, a very strong contender for the Palme d’Or, is pacing itself beautifully. A haunting, slow-burn study of broken men so desperate for familial affirmation that they masquerade their shortcomings as excellence, Bennett Miller’s follow-up to his acclaimed dramas Capote and Moneyball is another true-life story, this time focusing on John DuPont (Steve Carrell), his friendship with Olympic wrestler Mark Schulz (Channing Tatum), and how it led to the deranged 1996 murder of his brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo).

Originally slated for U.S. release last fall, the film’s distributor, Sony Pictures Classics, wisely sat on its hands and opted instead to play the long game. Fast forward six months later, and the picture is generating the perfect amount of chatter. “Carrell is an Oscar lock,” Variety breathlessly predicted within hours of the film’s first screening. Indeed, the comic actor completely reinvents himself with a surprisingly physical performance that required a prosthetic nose, false teeth and a shaved hairline extending his forehead. And Tatum brings a profoundly pained soulfulness to his characterization. But the real revelation is Ruffalo, usually slender but here beefed up enough to credibly out-wrestle Tatum. As the warm family man with an undercurrent of controlled rage, his portrayal of Dave is so finely modulated that the emotional reverberations more than justify the tragic outcome. In art as in life, the hard sell might make sense in the short run; but the softer approach usually ends up lingering far longer.