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Phone ads a bad career call
Zeta-Jones's TV presence could knock her film career off the hook
Mark Caro
Chicago Tribune
Canada News Wire / Catherine Zeta-Jones in yet another spokesperson role -- as Elizabeth Arden's global beauty spokesperson.

She was such a lovely actress, a stunner really, with a bright career ahead of her until one dumb decision forever changed how we'll look at her.

How could she do it? How could she have been so short-sighted? Don't these rich folks pay advisers to steer them away from such self-sabotage?

Honestly, she'd have been better off if she'd been caught shoplifting or something. But no, Catherine Zeta-Jones had to make those irritating cellphone commercials instead.

Have you seen them? How could you avoid them?

See the Welsh-born star walking among the little people, yelling, "Cut!" to freeze them in their tracks like she's directing the movie of life and they're just extras. See her provide divine inspiration to these clueless folks, like, gee, if you had the chance to hang out with a hot chick in Europe if only you could find someone to watch your dog back home, you could reach the prospective dog-watcher with a phone.

See her snap her fingers, click her heels and shout, "Action!" so these nobodies can complete their little dramas. The ads could be scenes from a horror flick called The Prom Queens Have Taken Over!

It's no mystery why the cellphone company hired the 33-year-old actress to replace Jamie Lee Curtis. Zeta-Jones has been one of the most desired actresses since Antonio Banderas took a sabre to her dress in 1998's The Mask of Zorro.

Earlier this month Real magazine voted her the world's most beautiful woman. She also was named the "ideal face of femininity" for 2001 by the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, which cited her "short delicate jaw with small chin and nose" plus "her lavish lips, well-developed cheekbones and prominent eyes."

After co-starring in the acclaimed Traffic and woeful America's Sweethearts (which relegated Julia Roberts to the plain-Jane role), Zeta-Jones took time out to have a baby. But now she's co-starring in the upcoming Chicago, the film adaptation of the Bob Fosse musical that Miramax is positioning as its big Oscar contender.

Why would she want audiences (and Academy members) associating her with wireless communications?

Zeta-Jones's agent at the William Morris Agency declined comment, and because most folks in showbiz are averse to offending those who might contribute to future paycheques, critiques for attribution are rare.

But no one I called thought Zeta-Jones was displaying brilliant judgment; one person associated with Chicago called the ads "an extraordinarily bad career move," "cheesy" and a potential turnoff to some moviegoers.

"I don't mind seeing Halle Berry's face a zillion times for Revlon because she's beautiful and it works, makes sense. The cellphone thing, I don't get it," said an agent at a rival firm to William Morris.

Reports have Zeta-Jones getting paid a minimum of $1 million US for her two-year ad deal -- a bargain for someone who could command eight-figure paycheques if she could cement her movie bankability. Plus, she's married to Michael Douglas, so that household isn't hurting.

Note that you haven't seen Roberts or Reese Witherspoon or Sandra Bullock or Nicole Kidman (or Tom Cruise or Tom Hanks) doing massive commercial campaigns. Mega stars are mega because you want to spend $9 to see them on the big screen. If you can see them six times a night on TV watching, why bother? (This is why many TV stars have trouble crossing over to movies.) Meanwhile, David Arquette is struggling to be taken seriously after his series of obnoxious phone ads.

Then again, Chris Pula, former marketing chief for Warner Bros., Disney and New Line, questioned whether Zeta-Jones has proven herself a true movie star.

"I don't know how talented she is," Pula said. "What hits has she done that are due to her? I'm sure she brought a younger audience to Entrapment (the 1999 thriller with Sean Connery). I'm sure it was the first time Americans saw her butt going up and down to lasers."

Maybe the phone gig is just part of Zeta-Jones's quest to become the anti-Sandra Bullock by taking only unsympathetic parts. She was dislikable in High Fidelity, America's Sweethearts and Traffic, she plays a murderess in Chicago and she'll be a gold digger in the upcoming Coen Brothers movie Intolerable.

Still, at least one of my colleagues found himself won over by the ads.

"You know why I don't find them irritating?" he asked. "Because she's fine as hell."

© Copyright  2002 Edmonton Journal


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