By Lydia Martin
Brett Ratner, the Miami Beach Cubanito who directs huge box-office hits and hosts such notoriously star-studded parties at his Beverly Hills mansion that he played himself at one of these high-powered schmooze fests in an episode of HBO’s Entourage, is pretty confident his film, Rush Hour 3, will get trashed by the critics.
But he’s very whatever about critics.
He can afford to be. His movies have made more than $1 billion worldwide.
“More like $1.5 billion, but who’s counting?” Ratner says with a frat boy’s laugh.
He’s doing that Hollywood multitasking thing, chatting with you at the Shore Club’s Ago over greens and chicken paillard — and dealing with his cellphone, which doesn’t stop. It’s his mom, some buddy, another buddy, an assistant who wants to know something about the guest list for the Rush Hour 3 premiere to be held in a few hours on South Beach.
“I swear to God I’ll probably get 90 percent bad reviews with this movie. But I have watched the movie with audiences, and the audiences f- – – – – – love it. Every movie I do gets bad reviews, but audiences aren’t really affected by reviews.”
Ratner, 38, prefers to take his cues from such friends as filmmaker Roman Polanski, who has a small role as a French inspector in Rush Hour 3, the latest meeting of the culture-clashing Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker. The movie features the sort of gags you’d expect from the franchise plus some fun stomach-turning fight scenes atop the Eiffel Tower.
“Critics are snobs. You think somebody like Roman Polanski, one of the master filmmakers, goes around doing acting jobs for no money? A director can appreciate a good movie no matter what the genre, ” says Ratner, whose first Rush Hour made $250 million in 1998. Rush Hour 2, released in 2001, made $342 million. Last year, his X-Men: The Last Stand scored the biggest Memorial Day weekend in history — $123 million in four days and more than $400 million over all.
“Somebody like Roman Polanski is not judging what kind of movie it is, ” Ratner says. “People like him know that it’s easier to make a pretentious art movie than a movie that makes f- – – – – – $500 million.”
AN EARLY START
Somehow, Ratner, with his boyish enthusiasm, can say this sort of thing and not come off like a jerk. Somebody gave him a camera when he was 8, and that got him dreaming about being a big-time director one day. Living on the Beach, he spent a lot of time crashing Miami Vice sets and the set of Scarface before getting into NYU’s film school at 16.
“Had he been realistic and realized what the odds were that he would succeed to the extent that he has, he probably wouldn’t have tried at all, ” says Shareef Malnik, owner of the landmark Miami Beach restaurant The Forge.
Shareef’s father Al Malnik was a friend of Ratner’s paternal grandfather, developer Lee Ratner. Brett was raised by his mother and maternal grandparents, who are Cuban and Jewish. They all lived in a house a block away from The Forge. The elder Malnik mentored Ratner while he was a kid going to Hebrew Academy and then Beach High.
“He grew up as my little brother, ” Shareef says. “He calls my dad Dad. He always had this tenacity. There was no way he was ever going to see anything but success and that director’s chair.”
Ratner was psyched when his hanging around the Scarface set scored him a second on the film as an extra. “You can see me when Al Pacino is out by the pool at the Fontainebleau, and he does that thing with his tongue, ” he says.
And he is still the kid who can’t believe his luck. He’s still awed by the movies the same way he was when he was in grade school and saw Raging Bull for the first time.
“I found out that Martin Scorsese made it and that he had gone to NYU film school, and I said, ‘That’s where I want to go.’ “
Yes, Ratner gets off on throwing big parties at Hillhaven Lodge, his famous Beverly Hills house. It was designed by Gordon Kaufman, architect of the Hoover Dam; Ingrid Bergman lived there. But mostly, Ratner invites celebrities there because the parties tickle his grandparents, Dr. Mario and Fanita Presman, who live with him.
“I had this birthday party for my grandmother, and Salma Hayek shows up, Penelope Cruz shows up, Sofia Vergara shows up. My grandparents are living the life, ” says Ratner, who keeps the house on Sheridan Avenue where he grew up and stays there when he’s in town.
Back in Hollywood, Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and that crew are so enamored of Grandma they come around to visit and take her shopping.
“The girls love my grandmother, ” Ratner says. “She’s a character. You know, she’s Cuban. They don’t know other Cuban people in L.A.”
But doesn’t he have to keep things sort of clean with his grandparents, who are in their 80s, also in the house? And isn’t that sort of a drag?
“It’s OK. I’ve never done drugs, and I’ve never had alcohol. Never tasted it. No interest. We’re Cuban and Jewish. And whether you’re Cuban or Jewish, it’s all the same. You’re gonna be close to your family, ” says Ratner, whose mom Marsha Pratts lives “between Miami and New York.”
Maybe it’s that good-Jewban-boy thing that compelled Ratner to hop a flight from the Paris filming of Rush Hour 3 to visit his high-school drama teacher Jay Jensen in the hospital shortly before he died of cancer in February.
“He was so important to me. He was amazing. Totally inspiring.”
Spanish doesn’t seem to roll too easily off Ratner’s tongue, but that doesn’t mean the cultural stuff isn’t close to the surface.
A MATTER OF TASTE
“The most Cuban thing about me is the way I eat, ” he says. “And my positive attitude. I don’t remember being sad one day in my life. I don’t know if that’s a Cuban thing or not.”
Every time he gets off a plane in Miami, he goes straight to Versailles.
“The only difference is that now I arrive on a private jet. Yesterday I had picadillo. I was in the mood. Sometimes I have boliche. Sometimes I have pollo asado. But I always start with croquetas, and I always top it off with a mamey milkshake. Those flavors are just in me.”
Given how hot Miami is, and how hot Ratner is, it stands to reason that the local boy would take a whack at making a movie set in his hometown. But he’s not quite ready.
“Every project that’s set in Miami comes to me. But . . . I don’t know. It would have to be a period piece. Right now Miami is kind of a tourist trap. It was cooler in the 1970s and 1980s. There were guys like Al Malnik and Don Aronow, who created the Cigarette boats. It was edgy. There were the Cubans and the Colombians. But I mean, how can I top Scarface? That was a perfect movie. It really captured a moment.”
It may be true that bad reviews don’t get to Ratner, but wouldn’t he like to make at least one movie that gets a thumbs-up?
“Fast Times at Ridgemont High was another perfect movie. So was Risky Business. They captured something about the culture. My movie would be about a kid growing up on Miami Beach who knows everybody, has connections with all the cops, gets out of doing homework at school. He’s kind of a Ferris Bueller who is running Miami, but he’s 13.
“I wasn’t a pool boy. But I would make him a pool boy who befriends an old gangster — I knew Meyer Lansky. And he learns how to be a hustler.”