The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Brett Ratner asks out the wrong babe!

October 27, 2008 | 10:58 am

Ratner_5I like Brett Ratner, so whenever I see him I give him the same advice: Stop chasing women and gabbing to the press and start making some serious movies. At the risk of sounding like his Jewish mother, all I can say is--but does he listen? No. The 39-year-old filmmaker (best known for helming the "Rush Hour" franchise) is this week's cover boy in the Jewish Journal, which you'd think would happily deliver the kind of fawning celebrity profiles we get in most magazines and newspapers these days, especially since the yeshiva-educated Ratner is what Hollywood calls a Big Jew, giving generously to Jewish causes and serving on the Simon Wiesenthal Center's board of trustees.

It's one thing to knocked around by Defamer, which has dubbed Ratner a "fauxteur," but the Jewish Journal? Oy vey! The profile, written by Danielle Berrin, skewers Brett like a Passover brisket. As if it weren't tacky enough for Brett to brag about his celebrity pals and boast about his book collection ("This is like $100,000 in books right here," he tells Berrin as he gives her a tour of his sprawling Benedict Canyon home), Ratner made the disastrous decision to hit on the journalist, asking her out on a date and generally treating her as if she were an aspiring actress in the thrall of a famous filmmaker.

"I really want to pursue you," he tells her in what Berrin describes as a "soft, almost effeminate" voice. "When are we going? I like you. Are you gonna make me wait? Don't make me wait!" Later that evening, when he screens a film at the house, Berrin writes that Ratner insists she sit next to him, where he proceeds to "drape his arm around me and tries to hold my hand." When the advances increase, Berrin eventually leaves, writing "I'm sensing the interview is over--and if I don't want my shoes winding up in the 'ex-girlfriend' section of his mahogany walk-in closet, it's time to go."

I know Brett well enough to suspect that he was probably trying to impress Berrin more than pick her up, but nonetheless, it was at best a clumsy, if not offensive, performance. Being a journalist, Berrin gets her revenge. Though she allows Ratner to earnestly muse about his filmmaking aspirations and the perils of success, she dissects his every weakness, largely by simply reporting every juicy snippet of dialogue. When she finds herself seated on a couch between Ratner and filmmaker James Toback, a regular visitor to Ratner's home, Berrin writes that Ratner "turns to Toback and talks about me as if I weren't there: 'I saw her today, and I wanted to chase her down the street.' "

Berrin tells him it's impolite to chase after girls. She quotes him as replying, " 'You I would chase 'cause you look like a WASP,' Ratner says, as if that were supposed to flatter me." Ratner and Toback then discuss what Toback calls the "diminishing of Jews in power" in Hollywood, with Toback rattling off the names of the powerful moguls, like Rupert Murdoch, who are not Jewish, with Ratner occasionally chiming in, reminding Toback that "Walt Disney hated Jews." When Berrin notes that Sony Pictures chief Amy Pascal is Jewish, Toback scoffs: "I'm talking about the corporate control. Amy Pascal is an employee--[I'm talking about] the people who can fire Amy Pascal."

The one person who comes out looking good is Ratner's mom, who was in town, visiting from New York, when Ratner was interviewed. She seems especially proud of her son's accomplishments, happily pointing out pictures of him with all his famous friends. But when she shows off a photo of Ratner's girlfriend, Ratner corrects her. "We broke up!" he says. "I can't marry her. She's not Jewish."

Ratner has been on the receiving end of a lot of snarky press over the years, but what made this startling was that it ran in the Jewish Journal. I couldn't help but wonder what Brett's reaction was to being painted as a Lothario in L.A.'s leading Jewish newspaper. What did he think?

I called Ratner on Sunday, just to make sure Berrin didn't make this all up--or was wildly exaggerating. He'd read the story, but was surprisingly unperturbed. "Some of the stuff she did was unfair, like the part about the books," he told me. "I didn't brag about how expensive the books were. She was the one who asked me how much they cost. I was just answering her question. But she's pretty smart, because she didn't have a pen and she wasn't recording anything, so I don't know how she remembered everything so well."

And what about him hitting on her? "I didn't hit on her," he says. "I was flirting, but it wasn't as bad as she made it out. I don't remember being quite that aggressive. I mean, flirting is just flirting. I think she exaggerated a lot of it, maybe because she was trying to get her boyfriend jealous. We talked about a lot of serious things in the story, but I guess that's not what anyone's going to write about when they write about me."

UPDATE: Berrin just emailed me, wanting to clarify the issue of how she reported the story. She says: "I had my tape recorder in plain view when I interviewed Brett, which would confirm everything he said. I also took handwritten notes."

Photo of Brett Ratner by Spencer Weiner / Los Angeles Times