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Mr. Blockbuster: No New Kid on the Block

January 12, 2006 By:
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Producer Jerry Bruckheimer goes full-court press with history in "Glory Road."

It's been an amazing race down "Glory Road" for mega-successful producer Jerry Bruckheimer.

The man whose "Amazing Race" has captured TV's Emmy Award for reality series three years running hurdles hits as if he were born with flubber in his shoes.

"Glory Road," he hopes, is more than the street where he lives; this Rocky-Goes-for-the-Rebound basketball adventure is the latest addition to a résumé that scores nothing but net.

And the net profits aren't too bad either.

Opening on Jan. 13, "Glory Road" is based on a true story about basketball coach Don Haskins and the all-black team he brought to a rainbow razzle-dazzle championship in college ball some 40 years ago.

At the time, it was a civil rite gone wrong for the opposing team, the Kentucky Wildcats, whose legendary coach, Adolph Rupp, nearly ruptured a blood vessel when his all-white team faced off with Haskin's hard-charging hardwood harbingers of the sport's future.

That initial NCAA championship victory in 1966 was as much a triumph for the NAACP, too, as college sports finally blew the whistle on the racism that be-fouled arenas.

When Texas Western University (now named University of Texas El Paso) passed into history with a jump shot that rang the rafters, all-white college teams became academic forever.

Forever the champ of the underdog, overachiever Bruckheimer - the top gun of gimmick-laden special-effects flicks - here reverts to the smartness and simplicity of a two-hand set shot in setting the stage for one of the greatest reversals in college sports history.

Blocked shots from "Mr. Blockbuster"? It's a long time in coming, says Bruckheimer of the coming-of-age story that teaches today's players - black and white - of the struggles and strengths of those who came before them.

Bruckheimer himself comes before others when it comes to success stories. His films have earned the Jewish producer a Bar Mitzvah paycheck - $13 billion in box office, DVD and CD earnings.

Golden boy? That would explain the 35 Oscar nods and the actual five Golden Boy statues Bruckheimer took home - butting shelf space alongside the five Grammys, four Golden Globes, seven Emmys and six People's Choice Awards.

His personal choice: Just tell a good story, says the Sholom Aleichem of out-there, modern-day storytellers, whose flash belies the heart-told triumphs of a "Flashdance" or "Top Gun."

It's a career with a bullet, and now Bruckheimer's willing - eager, in fact - to change the ammo a bit to a softer caliber with a story "that anyone under 40" probably doesn't know about.

"Don Haskins changed their lives," says Bruckheimer of the very much alive retired coach, who saw one-for-five and five-for-one as a hand he could deal with before grasping the importance of how he would change sports history.

"He didn't go out to make a statement," states the producer of the outspoken coach who thought college-sports politics was a double-dribble of double standards. "He went out there to win."

And win it he did. Yet memory may prove to be the biggest loser since so few recall the day the basketball stood still. Don Haskins' pep talk: "Klaatu barada nikto … net?"

"I don't remember it all," concedes Bruckheimer of the 1966 event that made orb-ball bounce a more straightforward way. "But maybe I do [remember] in my psyche somewhere."

It must be rubbing shoulders with other echoes of history that propelled Bruckheimer to relish "films about individuals who change society for the better."

Who better than Bruckheimer to make them? "Veronica Guerin" and "Remember the Titans" - the latter football-themed - "are two that should go in a time capsule" of his triumphs, says the producer.

The Heart Wins Out 
Enemy of the state of heartless, emotionally air-brushed films passed off as art? Not for Bruckheimer.

What makes him tick? "I go with my heart."

His heart was certainly up for "Black Hawk Down," as well as "The Rock."

"I don't make movies for audiences to like," he avers. "I make them for what I like."

He's unlike any other although audiences somehow were able to sit through enough of "Pirates of the Caribbean" to warrant another … and another. And if "National Treasure" was no artistic treasure trove, it certainly put Bruckheimer on the map once more with a box-office bonanza.

But suddenly, the small screen has meant big times for him, too. From seizing the "CSI" franchise to "Cold Case" to "Amazing Race" to "E Ring," there's not a network without a trace of Bruckheimer bravura - and that includes "Without a Trace" for CBS.

"It comes down to quality," he opines of what he looks for when channeling his energy into a TV project.

Not that his careening career has been without its share of quicksand. He and late producing partner/one-time University of Arizona roommate Don Simpson were so quick to turn out hits that one of them - Simpson - lost sight of the future, clouded over by a haze of drugs and danger. He may yet make a movie about his late colleague and friend, says Bruckheimer.

And for a man deemed a "rabbi" by many in the business because of his ability to offer sage talmudic advice, the producer concedes that Judaism is something he can sink his teeth into.

And, to a degree, he will be doing just that. "I'm working on a film about a Russian Orthodox fighter who got beaten up every day at school because he was Jewish," says Bruckheimer of the Ukrainian-born, now U.S. resident Dmitriy Salita.

Beaten up, until he made a new acquaintance, that is. Dmitriy, meet Gym.

"He developed so much, he became a fighter," a Golden Gloves champ. No one could lay a glove on him, but his professional career stalled "because he wouldn't box on Friday nights."

"Others rallied behind him," and Salita now has an ongoing career in boxing.

Just never on Shabbat.

It's all a lesson on rites and wrongs - and belief, according to Bruckheimer.

And this Jewish giant fights his own battles, too. The producer of the public-school-set "Dangerous Minds" thinks a mind is a dangerous thing to waste, and that illiteracy is a major dilemma, the nub of the nation's blackboard jungle.

A producer with a social conscience?

The executive producer of TV's upcoming "Modern Men" is old-fashioned that way. As his smile attests, there's nothing wrong "with making all our lives a little better."

 

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