Commentary: Dane Cook working tough road to movie stardom

Comedian gets payday, but not respect

Trying to make the difficult move from stand-up comedy to movie stardom, Dane Cook has become the Rodney Dangerfield of his generation: He just can't get no respect.

When his latest comedy, "My Best Friend's Girl," opened Sept. 19 to just $8.2 million, industry insiders seized upon it as further proof that Cook can't open a movie, following as it did in the wake of last year's "Good Luck Chuck" (which grossed $35 million domestically) and 2006's "Employee of the Month" ($28 million).

If some appeared to delight in his setback, it's only because many in Hollywood are tired of hearing that Cook is a hot property the movies can't afford to ignore: He sells out Madison Square Garden, his album "Retaliation" sold 1.3 million copies and he has, like, a billion friends on MySpace. (Well, 2,414,752 if you want to be exact.)

"When you're sitting in these meetings, it's staggering how there are all these comedians who are supposed to be really hot in Hollywood terms: Dan Fogler, Will Arnett, Rainn Wilson. And then their movies come out and they choke," one comedy producer says. "The thing with Cook is that he's Internet hype. He's got smart agents at CAA who were able to create a persona."

How good are his agents? Good enough that they are said to have gotten him an $8 million payday for "Girl," though his reps would not comment on that figure.

Right now, Cook is facing the same obstacles as many other stand-ups before him -- making the successful transition from the comedy stage to the big screen. Comedians such as Chris Rock, Kevin James, Jay Mohr and Denis Leary have tried and have yet to pop on screen. It's not a new phenomenon. Remember Andrew Dice Clay and "The Adventures of Ford Fairlane"?

One reason it's so difficult is that movies, even toss-off comedies, require acting chops. The stand-up goes from being a person who offers up his own point of view before a live audience to someone that needs to cultivate depth and character on screen. Bill Maher does politics, Ray Romano does families, Jerry Seinfeld does nothing, but outside of animation voiceover work, they don't do hit movies. Instead, they've all found success on TV with vehicles built around their on-stage personas.

By contrast, funnymen like Ben Stiller, Will Ferrell and Jim Carrey found surer footing in movies because they had backgrounds in sketch comedy, where they could hone a knack for creating characters.

The biggest, most long-running comic success stories -- Eddie Murphy, Steve Martin -- have another thing going for them: Audiences like to root for them. But that isn't a quality Cook conveys, according to insiders.

"Dane isn't skeezy, but his movies are," one comedian says. "The tone of his movies is sexually predatory. Adam Sandler, even with his white angry man-child, is approachable. Dane Cook is 'I'm going to f**k you and f**k you over.' "

Hollywood has tried to mold Cook into a romantic lead because he's one of the few funnymen that's good-looking.

"It's tough to find a really good-looking comedian, a guy who can be funny and attractive at the same time," one agent says. "In romantic comedies, you have Matthew McConaughey, and then who else is there?"

But so far, that fit doesn't seem right: "What you have is failure to match concept with star. Consistently," says the comedy producer.

Cook's team agrees that the key is finding that right piece of material.

"Even though he hasn't hit the home runs, when you consider the fact that he's been in the (movie) business less than three years, to have five movies that have opened at an average of $11 million, $12 million a pop, to me that is a great accomplishment," says Cook's manager, Barry Katz. "Not as great an accomplishment as Judd Apatow or Sacha Baron Cohen, but if you look at all the stand-ups doing film, he is doing much, much better than most. And it's just a matter of time."

So maybe Cook deserves a break.

Cook will keep getting chances, in part because his relatively modestly budgeted movies have been profitable. "Chuck," for example, cost $25 million and has made more than $27 million on DVD alone.

But perhaps Cook should also consider taking an alternative avenue to the screen, with a detour through TV. After all, look at what co-creating "Rescue Me" has done for former stand-up Leary. He's become a better actor and has captured what has eluded Cook: genuine respect.