Albert Brooks is the guy eggheads call genius.
And if you found enough energy to cart your carcass into Mr. Peabody's way-back machine and travel to 1979, you'd find Brooks at the forefront of what has now become America's favorite obsession: reality television.
Brooks' latest comedy film is "The In-Laws," co-starring Michael Douglas. But Brooks wasn't first with the reality thing. That was PBS in 1973 with "An American Family," an in-your-face, day-to-day dissection of the imploding-onscreen, real-life Loud family.
But Brooks was second — and nailed the future. Before the decade was out, he had made the film parody "Real Life," which included guys wearing cameras on their heads, hounding his onscreen "family."
Now, in 2003, we're in what some might call reality hell. There's "American Idol," "Joe Millionaire" and "The Amazing Race." "The Anna Nicole Show," "Married by America" and "Blind Date." Contestants lined up in skimpy swimsuits for ABC's "Are You Hot? The Search for America's Sexiest People," mostly to be told, "I'm sorry . . . you're not hot enough."
"Of course, this started with everybody watching 'Survivor,' " Brooks said recently by telephone from his home in Los Angeles. "What happened, I knew would happen. Hollywood cannibalizes everything. You know, if an idea is clever, you might watch it. I don't think this thing was meant to watch a guy get up and shave. 'Elimidate' is better than any of 'The Bachelor.' You'd watch 'Elimidate: The Movie,' wouldn't you?"
As he does in every movie he writes, directs or acts in, and every real-life conversation he has, Brooks is about to zoom off on his own verbal frequency. "In Hollywood, people were panicked over 'The Real Cancun,' " he says, shifting gears. "If that thing had made $32 million, there would have been carnage."
Who would need to pay Julia Roberts $20 million when the only requirements to make a movie would be a see-all hotel and an open bar?
But "Cancun" didn't score. So Hollywood is safe — except for Justin Guarini and Kelly Clarkson's "Idol" "From Justin to Kelly."
Brooks, it seems, is countering with two films. He plays a father in "The In-Laws" and voices one (as a timid fish) in Pixar's latest animated feature, "Finding Nemo."
"The In-Laws," a remake of a 1979 comedy with Alan Arkin and Peter Falk, stars Brooks as a podiatrist whose daughter is about to marry the son of a supersecret spy, played by Douglas. It's full of slapstick, innuendo and — though Brooks only helped juice the script — the comic's classic wit.
Question: One of the funniest lines early on in 'The In-Laws' has you talking about the caterers and why you don't like them. You say, "It's a man, a woman — and some lettuce." You wrote that line, didn't you?
Answer: The truth is you have to contribute. You're trying to make people laugh. If it can be better, it has to be better. The audience expects it and wants it. It's just a matter of if you can improve on something, you are insane not to try it.
Question: What can you tell me about "Finding Nemo"?
Answer: It's Pixar. They make these movies once every four years. In this case, it's Pixar underwater. That's all I'd have to say. They've taken the extraordinary thing they do that takes four years to animate and they went underwater with it. Pixar lets adults feel OK about seeing their movies. You don't feel like it's a kids' movie — but aimed more at kids than "Shrek." But kids still like it.
Question: What did you learn about Pixar's animation?
Answer: They showed me this mathematical formula involving making an ocean. This was a very difficult thing to do. We talked to the guys who did the ocean for "The Perfect Storm." Some guy in that movie had worked out some very difficult way to make water. Yeah, he ought to be with my kid. He can make water.
One shot they showed me was where one fish comes up and they do, like, Sydney Harbor. It's amazing. Every two or three years this Pixar thing gets better. I don't know what the ultimate goal is. The other day I was exercising and watching "Final Fantasy." . . . When all is said and done that movie is no good. But some of those people in some shots — it was eerie. I really feel 10 years down the line you could have "Twelve Angry Men" and three might be computer-generated.?
Question: One of your greatest moments is the "nest egg" verbal lashing you give Julie Hagerty in "Lost in America" after she's lost all the family money gambling in Las Vegas. Did you write all that or ad-lib it?
Answer: I don't know. I think it was written out as "get upset with her." I may have done it so many times on camera that I came up with it once on film. I don't think I sat down in a room and wrote that on paper. "How dare you, that was our nest egg." The secret to everything — even if it is completely written — is it's got to feel like it's not.