For­mer slacker is now a mon­ster star

Is Chris Pratt’s new sta­tus as a cinema idol linked to good luck or good man­age­ment?

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - By Steven Zeitchik

The num­bers for “Juras­sic World” im­press on many counts: the sec­ond-big­gest do­mes­tic open­ing in his­tory at $204.6 mil­lion. The largest world­wide open­ing in his­tory at $511.8 mil­lion. And per-screen av­er­ages that keep pace with the packed houses of the first “Juras­sic Park.”

An­chor­ing the suc­cess is Chris Pratt. Those words have been writ­ten a lot lately, and they don’t feel any less strange each time out. One of mod­ern Hol­ly­wood’s more de­li­cious as­pects is its abil­ity to cre­ate stars seem­ingly overnight. Few have risen faster than Pratt.

Just a cou­ple of years ago, the 35-year-old was known pri­mar­ily for his TV roles, es­pe­cially slacker Andy Dwyer on “Parks and Recre­ation.” His cin­e­matic parts, when he had them, were small turns in big movies like “Money­ball” or big­ger turns in small movies, movies so

small they barely came out.

But the last 16 months have been heady for Mr. Anna Faris, who voiced Em­met Brick­owski in “The Lego Movie,” then ap­peared as Peter Quill/Star-Lord in “Guardians of the Galaxy” and, now, as dino-whis­perer Owen Grady in “Juras­sic World.” Those films have all been hits — a to­tal of $1.75 bil­lion glob­ally and count­ing. But more im­por­tant, they’ve been over­per­form­ers, in­clud­ing “Juras­sic” last week­end, which an­a­lysts thought wouldn’t get to $150 mil­lion. The films far sur­passed ex­pec­ta­tions, and Pratt has been the com­mon el­e­ment in them all.

The key ques­tion is whether Pratt made th­ese hits as much as they made him. The movies, af­ter all, had much to buoy them. All were ma­jor brands: Lego, Marvel and “Juras­sic Park.” And all had other fac­tors that drew movie­go­ers: a quirky-cool word-of-mouth in the case of the first two and the whizbang spe­cial ef­fects and heavy nos­tal­gia quo­tient in “Juras­sic.” Has Pratt been driv­ing the train? Or has he been sim­ply lucky enough to board the right lo­co­mo­tives?

The ques­tion can be con­tem­plated in the con­text of the lead­ing-man cul­ture into which Pratt has ar­rived. Many of the stars who open movies th­ese days come in a de­cid­edly al­pha tra­di­tion — a Vin Diesel or a Chris Evans or a Chan­ning Ta­tum.

Pratt’s ap­peal is a more slip­pery beast. He has enough swag­ger to be men­tioned in the vicin­ity of those ac­tors but also a strain of goofi­ness that isn’t found in most mod­ern ac­tion he­roes. If Pratt, like the oth­ers, is not ex­actly a sub­tle crafts­man, he pos­sesses enough off­beat ap­peal to keep things sur­pris­ing.

Most no­tably, in the era of Diesel and Ta­tum, he isn’t them — a su­per­star whose star is brighter be­cause he doesn’t fit the mold, a kind of filmic Stephen Curry. A num­ber of par­al­lels chart the rise of the ac­tor and the Golden State War­riors star, not the least of which is that both weren’t given a lot of quar­ter early in their ca­reers. More im­por­tant, both also have found ways to use their against-the-grain skills to their ad­van­tage.

Pratt’s lik­ably demo­cratic per­sona and back story were cap­tured by his fa­mous re­marks to his high school wrestling coach. “I was like, ‘I don’t know,’ ” he re­called say­ing when asked about his life plan. “‘But I know I’ll be fa­mous, and I know I’ll make a ... ton of money.’

“I had no idea how,” he added. (He also, weirdly, seemed to pre­dict his star­ring role in “Juras­sic World” years ago when out of the blue he made a quip about a hy­po­thet­i­cal call to him from Steven Spiel­berg about the fran­chise.)

When a col­league and I ran into Pratt in an el­e­va­tor at the Toronto In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val a few years ago, he was in a T-shirt, en­gag­ing in horse­play with Michael Cera. He seemed far more like those of us who cast a wry eye on a film fes­ti­val as he did one of its cen­tral at­trac­tions.

That shrug­ging qual­ity has fit th­ese re­cent parts — a side­ways hero in “Guardians,” the holy fool nice-guy in “Lego” and even the in­tel­li­gent-but-not-in­tim­i­dat­ing sci­en­tist in the lat­est hit. “Juras­sic World” in par­tic­u­lar doesn’t call for a sheetrock Mes­siah fig­ure — not when the CG dinosaurs are the stars. Put a Diesel in the movie and the ve­loci­rap­tors may not have enough room to breathe. But drop in a Pratt, and ev­ery­thing fits nicely. His down-to-earth qual­i­ties makes the peril more be­liev­able and the lead­er­ship more tri­umphant. He’s the right hero for a cin­e­matic mo­ment when ac­tors aren’t the only he­roes.

That can seem strange in a world that puts so much em­pha­sis on celebrity. It’s dou­bly weird given a long­time cli­mate of spe­cial­iza­tion in Hol­ly­wood. Pratt is, at heart, a comedic ac­tor cam­ou­flaged as an ac­tion star. But he ex­plodes th­ese ques­tions or ren­ders them ir­rel­e­vant. Less im­por­tant than whether Pratt is a tra­di­tional lead­ing man is whether such char­ac­ter­i­za­tions need to mat­ter as much in the first place.

It’s not clear that a lot of other ac­tors will be able to erase th­ese dis­tinc­tions. The in­dus­try im­per­a­tive, if not ex­actly the au­di­ence de­mand, is to silo ac­tors in a given genre. But with Pratt reach­ing su­per­star­dom from an un­likely place and look­ing ef­fort­less in do­ing so, it wouldn’t be sur­pris­ing if fu­ture box-of­fice stars tried to fol­low his cir­cuitous path.

Next for Pratt is the An­toine Fuqua-di­rected re­make of “The Mag­nif­i­cent Seven,” shoot­ing in Louisiana. Pratt will play op­po­site ti­tans such as Den­zel Wash­ing­ton, not to men­tion against our mem­o­ries of fig­ures like Steve McQueen. Th­ese are all clas­sic lead­ing men, and Pratt isn’t. But the ac­tor will at­tempt to demon­strate that he be­longs among them any­way.

Like be­nign-seem­ing theme-park crea­tures, we un­der­es­ti­mate him at our peril.

steve.zeitchik@la­times.com

Chuck Zlotnick Uni­ver­sal Pic­tures

“JURAS­SIC WORLD” is the third block­buster for Chris Pratt, re­cently of TV’s “Parks and Recre­ation.”

Uni­ver­sal Pic­tures

“JURAS­SIC WORLD”

took a mas­sive bite out of the do­mes­tic box of­fice record books over the week­end.

Uni­ver­sal Pic­tures / Am­blin En­ter tain­ment

CHRIS PRATT, front, in a “Juras­sic” scene with Bryce Dal­las Howard, Nick Robin­son, Ty Simp­kins.

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