The news on Warner Bros.'s big early summer blockbuster, "Troy," is both good and bad.
If the studio's numbers are correct, then a lot of people in Europe and Asia really liked the story of Brad of Troy — and not Helen of Troy — complete with inane dialogue and a Trojan horse right out of the Neiman Marcus catalogue. The box-office number being reported for everywhere but America is $265 million.
On the other hand, Americans themselves — the people in whose language "Troy" was actually made and to whom it was marketed — haven't been all that crazy about Wolfgang Petersen's retelling of "The Iliad."
The domestic box-office take through Monday is $119 million, or less than half the number from places where English is not the primary language. The "Troy" budget is pegged at somewhere around $225 million, including marketing costs.
But what about Brad Pitt? Oprah gushed over him like he was Gandhi back from a day at the World Gym, and the press ogled his physique as if he were Pamela Anderson.
But Pitt, it turns out, may not be a movie star after all, certainly not one on par with Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks, or Julia Roberts.
As "Troy" struggles to find more customers in the continental United States, it's salient to report that this motion picture is only the fourth Pitt project to cross the $100 million mark since he first broke through in "Thelma & Louise" (1991). The other three were "Ocean's Eleven" ($283 million, 2001); "Seven" ($100 million, 1995), and "Interview With the Vampire" ($105 million, 1994).
Indeed, between 1995 and 2001, Pitt starred in no fewer than eight forgettable clunkers, excluding "Twelve Monkeys," which was a box-office bust but earned him a surprise Oscar nomination.
The list includes "Sleepers," "The Devil's Own," "Seven Years in Tibet," "Meet Joe Black," "Fight Club," "Snatch," "The Mexican" and "Spy Game."
It could be argued that the success of "Ocean's Eleven," the only blockbuster in Pitt's entire career, was due to its ensemble cast of stars (George Clooney, Roberts, and Matt Damon among them) and was not really a "Brad Pitt movie."
And some of those eight — "Meet Joe Black" — were spectacular failures of monumental embarrassment to everyone involved.
So what's the difference between a movie star and a hugely famous sex symbol who makes movies? You could ask Raquel Welch that question, or, more recently, Rob Lowe.
Pitt may be a nice fellow, and his publicity assures us that he's smart enough to like discussing architecture, but he can't carry a $100 million movie on his own. All of the "Troy" publicity was about pumping up the pumped-up Pitt, but in the end it didn't matter that Brad had the bod of the year or a popular TV-star wife.
The audience that likes tabloid gossip isn't plunking down $10 a head to see him in theatres. And that's a problem.
If his next feature, "Mr. and Mrs. Smith," with Angelina Jolie, falls short of the $100 million mark, Pitt — no matter how good-looking or charming — could be headed to his own version of "The West Wing" by 2006.
I ran into Tom Hanks Monday afternoon backstage at "Late Night with Conan O'Brien." Hanks gets two segments on the hit show, airing June 17, the day before he opens across America in "The Terminal." (The show also features an historic music performance by Sam "Soul Man" Moore and the legendary Carla Thomas on the R&B classic "Knock on Wood.")
I commented in Monday's column that in "The Terminal," Hanks — again doing excellent work — looked a little paunchy and not like a "movie star."
I couldn't help but notice when we chatted before Conan that since "The Terminal," Tom seems to be back at fighting weight and looking a lot less haggard than his "Terminal" character in a designer black pinstripe suit and matching snazzy shirt.
Hanks told me actually had to learn credible Russian so he could really appear to be from a Soviet satellite nation.
Conan's show runs with tremendous efficiency, by the way, much like the old "Tonight Show with Johnny Carson." Executive producer Jeff Ross runs a tight ship, and musical director Max Weinberg — also known as Bruce Springsteen's E Street band drummer — commands a world-class band that includes guitarist Jimmy Vivino.
Remember when people joked about Conan getting canceled any minute right after his debut in the fall of 1993? It seems impossible to think now that everyone didn't love this show. And they have very good cookies in the green room. Maybe that's their secret!
For some reason, few people seem to know that Patti Scialfa is about to release a new album. "23rd Street Lullaby" hits stores next Tuesday, June 15, and it's Scialfa's first album since 1993.
What's she been doing all this time? How about touring with husband Bruce Springsteen and raising a family in the tony New Jersey suburbs? That's a lot of work.
Still, Scialfa is a rocker at heart, and the samples of her new songs — which you can preview at www.pattiscialfa.net — indicate that domestic bliss and lots of carpools haven't dimmed her ability to rock with the best of them. There are no credits available yet, but several of the tracks — including "State of Grace" and "Rose"— will probably start cropping up on rock radio very shortly.
The question is, can Sony/Columbia make something happen with what seems to be an excellent record, or will this be like the case of another Patti — Patti Smith — and just disappear before it can find an audience?