The Agony of the Kramer

We all know about the disappearance of Sean Penn from Wayne Kramer‘s much-delayed Crossing Over (Weinstein Co., 2.9.09). Penn shot a couple of scenes as immigration cop Chris Farrell in the Weinstein Co. drama, but he’s not in the trailer and his name is missing from the credit block. What gives? Why the hell would Kramer cut Penn, a major name actor, out of this Traffic-like drama about the problems of immigrants seeking U.S. citizenship? Because his acting sucked?

(l. to r.) Crossing Over director Wayne Kramer, Harvey Weinstein, Harrison Ford, producer Frank Marshall, Bryan Lourd

I don’t know for a stone fact why Penn is MIA, but an explanation came to me today from a credible, well-placed source. Penn asked to be removed from the film, the guy says, because he had a serious beef with a Kramer subplot in the film involving an Iranian character murdering his sister in an act of “honor killing.” I’m aware of reports that this scene was cut from the film (or diluted) after the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) and other voices claimed it was defamatory, but Penn, I’m told, still had a problem with it. Maybe this was just part of the reason.

In any event, Crossing Over is said to have been a “horrific experience” for Kramer, who didn’t get back to me when I wrote him earlier today. I got this story only a few hours ago and didn’t have time to do the usual calling around and cross-checking. Everyone’s on Thanksgving holiday anyway. This is just one well-placed guy’s perspective.

Kramer, I’m told, had a contractual final cut but that doesn’t cut much ice with Harvey Weinstein if there are creative differences afoot — Harvey can just say sure, okay, you insist on final cut and I’ll send your movie straight to DVD. The bottom line, my source claims, is that Harvey pretty much ignored Kramer’s final-cut contract by letting Crossing Over costars Harrison Ford and Sean Penn fiddle with it in editing.

Crossing Over shot sometime during the spring and early summer of ’07, and when Kramer’s cut was test-screened it tested “just okay, nothing great,” I’m told. Crossing Over is a tough, hard-knocks drama with a somewhat downbeat tone, and such films tend to test modestly or so-so. If it’s a sad or glum movie in any way, people go “ewww…I liked that Adam Sandler movie we saw last week better.”

Sean Penn

In any case, after Kramer’s version screened Harvey said okay, you’ve done your cut, now me and Frank” — Frank Marshall, Crossing Over‘s producer — “are going to cut our own version. Kramer flipped out over this at first, but Frank and Harvey’s version wound up testing a little better than his so he swallowed his pride and more or less agreed to let this version be the final one.

But then Harvey showed the film to Ford, who didn’t like this and that aspect so he took the film and did his own cut, but “it was so bad that Harvey decided to not even test it.” So Kramer was relieved that Harrison’s cut was awful and the pendulum had swung back to the Harvey-Marshall cut. But then Harvey said, ‘Oh, I’d better show it to Sean Penn’ and Penn has issues with it also, principally the way the Iranian honor-killing character was portrayed.

There was some back and forth bickering on Penn’s complaints with no resolution. The episode came to a crescendo, my guy says, when Penn’s agent, CAA’s Byran Lourd, called Harvey and said the best way to deal with this is to cut Sean out of the movie. To which Kramer responded, “What…?”

Harvey called Lourd and said, “I’m not going to cut Sean out, I have a contract, this movie cost $20 million, fuck you, we’re not rolling over for you guys,” etc. Two days later Harvey calls and tells Kramer, “We’re cutting Sean out of the movie.” I’m sorry but I think this is hilarious.

“I think it’s important that people know about what is happening to Wayne,” my source says. “My own view is that Penn should be shamed into giving Kramer the movie he wants and deserves. It is very easy to demonize Harvey in all of this, but Harvey, Frank and Wayne all had a cut of the picture they were satisfied with. Harvey’s weak link is giving stars too much influence. In this case it is Penn, who touts himself as being an artist of integrity, but in this case is completely screwing over a reputable filmmaker simply because he doesn’t agree with his political views. It’s really shameful.

“Another big question is where is Frank Marshall in all of this? How come he isn’t standing up to Sean for Wayne? Do these stars have so much power that producers are going to cave in to their political whims and destroy a fllmmaker’s work just so they can maintain a relationship with that star down the line? It should really give filmmakers pause.”

Crossing Over costars Ford, Ray Liotta, Ashley Judd, Summer Bishil, Lee Horsley, Cliff Curtis, Jaysha Patel, Alice Eve and Alice Braga.

  • Jeez, with that many irons in the fire, why don’t they just release it online and let us all have a crack at editing it.

  • corey3rd

    maybe everyone should do their cut of the film before they shoot it with each getting their own storyboard artist. Then the winner of this competition gets their movie shot.

  • huntermdaniels

    Damnit! I love Wayne Kramer and I’ve been waiting for this film for ages (and EvilSeek). I was invited to the screening of Kramer’s cut but I couldn’t go and now I’ll probably never get to see the “real” version.

    Fingers crossed for a decent DVD, or at least a work-print leak

  • Mike

    This isn’t going to help Penn’s chances for that 2nd Oscar.

  • lawnorder

    I read the script to Kramer’s EVILSEEK and I was really looking forward to seeing that movie (supposedly with Tom Jane). The whole time I kept telling myself, there’s no studio that’s actually going to make this script – it’s so demented and insane that it makes Running Scared seem like High School Musical. The old Lionsgate would have jumped at the chance to turn Evilseek into a franchise – it has all the makings of a cool property – but it’s definitely not for the faint of heart. The log line is: Each millennium, the reigning satan has to anoint a successor to the throne and take on the body of a mortal on earth to seek out that successor, the most evil person alive. The current satan finds himself taking over the body of an FBI profiler who has just committed suicide and is on the case of a serial murder who kills families in the theme of the elements (earth, fire, water, etc.) But the cool thing about the script is that Satan is the most moral guy in the story and is becoming more and more human by the moment. It’s a cool mix of Seven, Devil’s Advocate and Hellblazer.

  • huntermdaniels

    Supposedly Kramer IS shooting 2 movies back to back this winter, both starring his Running Scared lead, Paul Walker. The first is another action movie and the second is Evilseek, but who knows if that is still happening, since I think it was a deal with TWC

  • The Winchester

    This EVILSEEK sounds awesome as hell. Ouch, terrible pun, but still. Kramer is the only director that makes me not only tolerate, but ENJOY Paul Walker in movies.

  • p.Vice

    Couldn’t Penn have dealt with this by reading the script before agreeing to appear in the film?

  • actionman

    wow this is so fucked up

    if the film is about different aspects of race why would there be a problem with showing an Iranian honor killing? that shit happens. bunch of pussies.

  • lawnorder

    I bet once the Iranian group starting protesting the film, Penn got all PC about it. Whatever happened to the concept of a work of fiction? A lot of thin-skinned people in the world today.

  • BurmaShave

    I can see the problem. From what I read on the conservative sites, Sean Penn is President of Iran. Also he shouldn’t cause such a fuss and just do what Harrison Ford does: remove himself from a movie by taking up the center of it as a lackluster black hole.

  • alynch

    You know, I can understand wanting editorial input when you’re, say, the lead in a film, but from what I’ve read Sean Penn only had two scenes in this film, amounting to something like four minutes screentime. Deferring to him at all in that case really makes no sense.

  • jiggles

    I saw this movie at a test screening for this film and can tell you why it was cut.

    I first of all have to say that this movie wasn’t that great. I liked Kramer’s Running Scared, but this was his attempt at a Crash-style movie and it just failed on so many levels. It was an overly simplified, black-and-white, heavy-handed attempt to take on the idea of crossing borders.

    Ashley Judd plays an immigrations lawyer of some sort who tries to adopt a Nigerian girl who is in state’s custody for some reason. Her husband, Ray Liotta, is the guy who helps approves visa. An attractive Australian chick living past her visa expiration tries to make it as an actress. She runs into Ray (literally) and he says he’ll help her get her permanent resident card if she becomes his sex slave. Meanwhile, her friend, jim Sturgess in the only really interesting plot line, is a musician who fakes being Jewish to get his visa.

    So those are all fun little subplots – the story mainly involves Harrison Ford playing a kindhearted INS agent who is partnered with a vaguely Middle Eastern guy. This guy’s dad just became a citizen, his slutty, shame on the family sister and her fake ID making friend (who made some fake stuff for our Aussie lass who is screwing Ray) are murdered and that is investigated. Meanwhile, a group of Asian kids go rob a convenience store and kill some people, the partner kills some of them, gives an awkward speech, and lets the kid go.

    The main Harrison Ford plot line involves a woman who is rounded up and begs Ford to help her son. She throws a piece of paper at him, but he ignores it. After drinking and being sad, he goes back and finds the paper, rescues the son, and takes him back to the family across the border, only to find out the mother has decided to sneak back across the border to get the son because she didn’t expect Ford to actually do it.

    This is where Penn comes in – near the end, he’s driving along at night as a border patrol and crashes his car into deep gorge. The car is badly damaged, he’s in no condition to walk, and things are rough, so he hunkers down in the back of the car. He meets a woman who is out there – and turns out to be the mother from Ford’s plotline sneaking over across the border. They try to communicate and share pictures of their kids and bond. The next morning, Penn wakes up and she’s gone – and that’s when they discover her body below the truck; she had been killed and raped by ruthless coyotes (scummy guys who ferry people across the borders) and buried – and they’d never be able to find the body unless he had crashed there.

    So there you have it – the idea of CROSSING OVER, not just in terms of physical borders, but also ethereal, magical, supernatural borders!

  • lawnorder

    Wow – I hope you’re proud of yourself for spoiling the film for everyone else who intends to see it. What an asshole. You’re the reason films should NEVER be test screened. Because there’s always some douche bag in the audience who is going to jump on the internet and spoil it for everyone.

    And by the way, the Penn storyline sounds the most interesting of all.

  • Tom

    I saw this movie at the test screening and was in the group that stayed after to answer questions. I also hung around in the lobby later to see what the numbers were. Harvey’s cut didn’t just test “aliitle bit better”, it was in the 80’s where Kramer’s was a 70. That’s significant. Could it be they are just trying to make the movie better?
    The big problem most of us shared was not with Sean Penn, but with his ghost story. It seems to me they probably cut it because it didn’t work. It took you out of the realism of the movie, simple as that. It’s about an important subject and I hope it gets released soon.

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    Wow I really was upset with Sean Penn over this one.

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