NEW YORK — MGM has abruptly pulled the plug on Norm Macdonald’s “Ballbusted” after lackluster returns from the debut of “Dirty Work,” sources said.
The film was five weeks away from production and was to mark the directorial debut of the celebrated writing team of Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski. MGM is on the hook for pay-or-play deals worth around $5 million unless another backer materializes for the $15 million comedy.
The principals behind the film were told of MGM’s decision on Tuesday, and sources said they could not have been more shocked by the studio’s sudden move.
“Basically, they made a movie that failed and they panicked and pulled the plug on a good movie that was never intended to ride the coattails of ‘Dirty Work,’ ” said a source close to the film.
“Ballbusted” was scripted by Alexander and Karaszewski, the team behind the scripts “The People vs. Larry Flynt,” “Ed Wood” and the upcoming Andy Kaufman biopic “Man on the Moon.”
The duo has been looking to make the move behind the camera and had multiple offers, but opted for the MGM deal and the chance to work with Macdonald. In “Ballbusted,” Macdonald was to play a disgruntled chauffeur who decides to kidnap his rich employer’s dog.
It is not unprecedented for a creation by Alexander and Karaszewski to be orphaned by a studio and turn out okay. It happened to “Ed Wood,” their biopic of the “Plan Nine From Outer Space” helmer that was directed by Tim Burton and starred Johnny Depp. Then-Columbia chief Mark Canton axed the film, but Disney came to the rescue.
Alexander and Karaszewski are staying with the crew on the Vancouver set, continuing to prep the film in hopes that a similar rescue can be engineered, sources said.
There’s much scurrying being done to find another home for the movie by producers Robert Simonds, Brillstein-Grey and Endeavor, the agency that reps the directors and Macdonald.
MGM’s move is in direct response to “Dirty Work” not working in a highly competitive summer marketplace, grossing just over $7 million so far. That is despite the national attention given the film after Daily Variety revealed that NBC West Coast president Don Ohlmeyer had banned “Dirty Work” ads on the network as continuation of bad blood that resulted after Ohlmeyer pulled Macdonald from the “Weekend Update” desk of “Saturday Night Live” (Daily Variety, June 2).