The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Did the blogosphere's beef with 50 Cent make him 'Expendable'?

March 24, 2009 |  2:12 pm

I admit that I was skeptical -- OK, I actually laughed 'til I cried -- when I first read New York magazine's Vulture blog's claim that it was a tidal wave of outrage from bloggers that got 50 Cent "un-cast" in Sly Stallone's upcoming action film, "The Expendables," which already stars a rogue's gallery of B-movie roustabouts, including Mickey Rourke, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren and Jet Li.

50centAs Vulture recounted it, Stallone was so eager to court the Web's coterie of fanboy enthusiasts that he personally wrote in to Ain't It Cool News to announce that Curtis (50 Cent) Jackson would be replacing Forest Whitaker as one of the tough-guy mercenaries on a perilous mission to overthrow a nefarious South American dictator.

Blogboy reaction was swift, shrill, snarky and merciless. First Showing's Alex Billington wrote: "Are you kidding me? 50 Cent is probably the worst actor ever! No one should cast him, not ever, no matter the circumstances." The Playlist agreed: "Be prepared for 50 Cent to stink up this already corny-sounding project." Idolator called 50 Cent a "running pop-culture joke."

OK, I get the drift. But come on -- would Stallone really dump 50 Cent just because he didn't cut the mustard with a few excitable bloggers? Or are bloggers, at least when it comes to action fare, actually Hollywood's most respected new focus group? Meaning: Is it possible Stallone really did care what they thought?

The surprising answer is: Maybe he did. I called up Avi Lerner, the world's greatest B-movie impresario, who is producing "The Expendables" and is clearly in 50 Cent's corner, having already made three pictures with him, including the Iraq war drama "Home of the Brave" and "Righteous Kill," the ill-fated Al Pacino-Robert De Niro reunion film (or as the colorful Israeli producer described it: "The movie you and all the other critics didn't like so much").

So what happened? After Whitaker dropped out over scheduling issues, Stallone met with 50 Cent. "They had a good meeting and we all thought Sly liked him," Lerner explained. "But the next thing I knew, Sly changed his mind. I don't know what happened -- maybe someone put some doubt in his head."

But could that doubt have really come from the reaction in the blogosphere? "I think the answer is yes and no," Lerner said. "Maybe it was what the bloggers were saying. Directors are always worried about how people are going to react to their choices, so they're always influenced by reaction, whether it's from fans, bloggers or critics. I think they're in a very vulnerable place when they're trying to make these decisions, so you never know what's going to influence them."

In the end, Stallone went with an actor who could provide more comic relief for the film, which is why he's now cast Terry Crews in the part, who has co-starred in both action dramas ("Street Kings") and comedies ("Get Smart" and "Balls of Fury"). As Lerner explains: "In an action movie, you need to laugh sometimes, which is why 'Lethal Weapon' worked so well. You can't keep the audience tense for 100 minutes -- they need to relax sometimes."

As for the movie itself, Lerner is still pinching himself about its $60-million budget. "It's probably the biggest movie I've ever done. I used to say -- I'm never to make a movie that goes over $2 million. Then I wouldn't go over $5 million. Then $10 million. And now look at me. Let's face it, $60 million is a lot of money." That's a lot of pretty pennies, but none of them are going to 50 Cent anymore.

Photo of 50 Cent, a.k.a. Curtis Jackson, by Jennifer S. Altman / For The Times