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Does the gruff stuff still work for H’wood?

Crowe stays craggy as new wave of heroes turns down the testosterone

I like Russell Crowe for his consistency. Look at his press photos and he’s always glowering, his face a landscape of coarse stubble and angry creases, his voice an ominous rumble.

Macho Man made a quick pass through Los Angeles last week to hustle “Robin Hood” and even did the ritualistic pass down the Hollywood Walk of Fame, but he didn’t pretend to be Mr. Nice Guy. When one journalist tried a question about “Robin Hood,” he snapped, “Why don’t you see the movie?”

Now, I’m not going to tell Russell to soften his image, but filmmakers might reconsider whether a Romper Stomper represents the ideal leading man anymore. The new superheroes seem gentler (think Ryan Reynolds in “Green Lantern”) or funkier (think Seth Rogen in “Green Hornet”) or funnier (think Robert Downey Jr. in practically everything) or simply disoriented (think Sam Worthington in “Clash of the Titans”).

Casting mavens might do well to review several psychological studies about women’s attitudes toward their leading men, both in real life and in the movies. The bottom line: Women in advanced Western nations want their guys to appear softer and more sensitive. The tough testosterone types are favored largely in nations with the weakest economies and the worst health care.

Hence the Russell Crowe types play well in Mexico and Bulgaria. The Matt Damon types play in Sweden, Austria and the U.S.

In one of the studies conducted by an outfit called the Face Research Laboratory, facial images on photos of male subjects were altered to identify women’s tastes. As computer keystrokes softened jawlines, eyebrows, cheekbones and other facial features, the ratings of the manlier men declined in most Western countries and those of the metrosexuals strengthened.

In the U.S. where women now constitute almost 56% of the workforce, these preferences are becoming more pronounced. Perhaps the women wage-earners see enough Russell Crowe types during their work days and don’t want to cope with them at night or on the weekends.

Hollywood has gone through cycles of kinder-and-gentler leading men in the past — remember the era of Tab Hunter and Troy Donahue? — only to welcome back Robert Mitchum and Charles Bronson.

In any case, Universal has a lot riding on “Robin Hood.” I hope it decides to send Russell Crowe to charm his fans in Mexico and Bulgaria.

Studios keep turning out remakes with alarming regularity, hoping they’ll be “safe bets.” But the remakes often are bigger losers than the originals.

Screen Gems has released an Americanized version of “Death at a Funeral,” starring Chris Rock, just three years after the original British farce bowed in 2007. Reviews have been mixed. Plans for a remake of “Godzilla” were unveiled recently by Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures. But that movie has already been remade about 50 times, and the last attempt from Sony only 12 years ago was the equivalent of ape rape.

(The remake syndrome isn’t limited to action pictures. Remember the lamentable Harrison Ford-Sidney Pollack remake of “Sabrina” in 1995?)

This fall, MGM is going to try another version of “Red Dawn,” remaking its 1984 movie, which was a remake of “Lord of the Flies.” Well, almost.

Back in the ’80s, MGM had purchased a thoughtful script by Kevin Reynolds that was loosely based on “Lord of the Flies.” It was a poignant anti-war film depicting the impact of a surprise Russian invasion of the U.S. on our Southwestern border. The studio turned Reynolds’ anti-war script into a pro-war movie directed by John Milius focusing on the military heroics of Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen and their fellow guerrilla fighters. “Lord of the Flies” ended up more akin to a World War II propaganda film.

Now MGM is taking on “Red Dawn” again, and this time the Americans are turning back a Chinese invasion.

Milius and Reynolds both find the whole idea perplexing.

“I think it’s a stupid thing to do,” Milius told the Los Angeles Times. “Why would China want to attack us? They sell us stuff.”

Reynolds also is puzzled. When he wrote his script (it was titled “Ten Soldiers”) his aim was to show the terrifying experience of war fought on American soil. “I wrote it in the early ’80s when there was a surge of military breast-beating in the U.S.” he says.

Reynolds had just directed “Fandango” as his first picture and had hoped to helm “Ten Soldiers” as his second and that it would reflect the tone of “Lord of the Flies” rather than a John Wayne movie.

He was taken off the picture, the combat-ready Milius was put on and Gen. Alexander Haig, then a member of the MGM board of directors, decided to help implant the right attitude into the filmmakers.

He succeeded in proving only that remakes are usually a losing battle.

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