Can Mel Gibson still draw a crowd?

Thu Jan 14, 2010 10:56pm EST
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By Jay A. Fernandez

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Admit it: You experienced a jolt upon seeing that first billboard for "Edge of Darkness" right after New Year's.

There was that name -- Mel Gibson -- and then the man himself, grim-set face and trenchcoated torso coming toward you in an advertisement for a major studio release. The pitch and the persona were familiar, but it still felt odd, like a good friend you had a falling-out with awhile back who suddenly reappears on your Facebook wall. How do you respond?

Warner Bros. is betting that audiences will respond with a cheery "Welcome back!" and solid opening-weekend attendance when "Darkness" opens January 29.

Gibson is returning to the big screen after a seven-year absence -- a century in movie-star years -- and studio marketing is aimed squarely at his old fan base. In TV and print ads, it's Gibson alone -- purposeful, vengeful, unstoppable -- a good guy who will bloody the guilty with the righteous weapons of justice.

But how likely is renewed success for the embattled action star? Other than a brief appearance in September on NBC's "The Jay Leno Show" to confirm that his Russian girlfriend was pregnant, Gibson's only public exposure during the past few years has been in the tabloids.

Take away the self-destructive cocktail of Moonshadows, and the anti-Semitic taunts he publicly lobbed in July 2006, and you're still looking at a 54-year-old actor who hasn't been onscreen for the better part of a decade. (He most recently appeared in October 2003 in a heavily disguised supporting role when "The Singing Detective" opened.) That would be a challenge for anyone.

It's easy to forget that for 15 years, Gibson had one of the most consistently successful careers of any modern movie star. From 1987-2002, he starred in 10 movies that grossed more than $100 million apiece domestically, putting him in the league of Will, Jim, Julia, Harrison, Eddie and the two Toms. Along the way, his peers gave him best director and best picture Oscars for "Braveheart" -- distinctions none of the others has.

When Gibson walked away to focus on his directing career, he sparked controversy and collected hundreds of millions of dollars with his self-financed foreign-language epic "The Passion of the Christ." Whatever people thought of his beliefs, he was an artistic force to be reckoned with.   Continued...