For, Friday, Sept. 27, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: Some thirteen years ago I wrote a column for the Deseret News about how difficult it was for TV-comedy stars to become movie stars, and at the time it seemed true. But things have certainly changed as the stars of many of today’s biggest movie comedies have TV roots —Melissa McCarthy, Jason Bateman, Ryan Reynolds, etc. But when this was published on July 7, 2006, it seemed relevant. To quote Heraclitus, ‘Change is the only constant in life.’

For some reason it’s difficult for top-flight TV comics to shift their success to movies.

This came to mind as I watched with incredulity the straight-to-video “Grilled,” a very dark comedy that teams Ray Romano and Kevin James, respective stars of “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “King of Queens.”

There’s a reason movies go straight to video, and this one marks Romano’s third flop in a row (discounting the successful animated “Ice Age” features).

In the 1950s, Lucille Ball became an icon with her seminal TV series “I Love Lucy.” But if you’re not a film buff, her movie titles don’t quickly come to mind, with the possible exceptions of “Mame” and “Yours, Mine and Ours.”

During the next decade, Dick Van Dyke rode his eponymous sitcom to the blockbuster Disney film “Mary Poppins,” but never made another that came close to that high watermark. “Bye Bye Birdie” was fairly successful, but Van Dyke was reduced to a supporting player as emphasis shifted to teen star Ann-Margret, and “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” was a disaster.

Oddly, after “Mary Poppins,” Van Dyke’s biggest movie success was the now virtually forgotten Disney farce “Lt. Robin Crusoe, USN,” the fifth biggest movie of 1966,right up there with “A Man for All Seasons” and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.”


Mary Tyler Moore was another phenom from both Van Dyke’s show and then her own “Mary Tyler Moore Show” in the 1970s, but aside from “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” what other films did she do? If you said her Oscar-nominated role in “Ordinary People,” give yourself a bonus point. If you said Elvis Presley’s “Change of Habit,” in which Moore played a nun, buy yourself dinner.

Others who found movie stardom elusive include Sid Caesar, Jackie Gleason, Carol Burnett, Bill Cosby and Andy Griffith (“No Time for Sergeants” was a huge hit but preceded “The Andy Griffith Show”).

Sine I these TV stars made some good movies, and some were box-office successes. But they were never able to soar in the way they did on the small screen.

In many cases they just couldn’t find a worthy silver-screen showcase. Van Dyke often said during his prime that he was born in the wrong era, that he should have been around for silent comedies.

In the late 1980s, the “Saturday Night Live” gang began to break down those barriers a bit, especially Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy.

Some younger “SNL” veterans have also done very well, chief among them Adam Sandler, Will Ferrell and to a more limited degree, Michael Myers.


But back to Ray Romano.

The TV star launched his movie career in 2004 with the A-list “Welcome to Mooseport,” opposite Gene Hackman. But what must have seemed sure-fire — with Romano as a character not too far removed from his TV persona — fizzled.

That same year, Romano was in the little-seen art-house film “Elegy,” a dark ensemble comedy in which he played an unlikable slimeball. To his credit he took a risk, but the film was a failure.

James, meanwhile, had a cameo in Adam Sandler’s “50 First Dates,” then co-starred in the Will Smith comedy “Hitch” — earning good reviews in a hit film.

Now, real-life pals Romano and James come together for “Grilled,” and fans who saw their amiable chemistry in several crossover episodes of their TV shows might expect it to be fun. It’s not.

Once again Romano is playing an unlikable slimeball; James’ family-man character fares better.

It’s all about choices.

And rather unexpectedly, while James’ star is not as high in the TV galaxy, it looks like he might eclipse Romano on the big screen.

EDITOR’S ENDNOTE: In a way, the prediction in the final paragraph above remains true. Romano has returned to TV and had a modicum of success in several series, and takes supporting roles in various independent movies. His highest-profile project so far is Martin Scorsese’s upcoming “The Irishman” (scheduled to open Nov. 27). Meanwhile, James had a TV sitcom that was canceled after two seasons and has found something of a niche in comedies for Netflix, some of them starring his buddy Adam Sandler. But so far, neither Romano nor James has found a project anywhere near as successful as their initial hit sitcoms.