When I reviewed his production Enemy of the State (ghost-written by such writers as Tony Gilroy and Aaron Sorkin, by the way), I described myself as "an only slightly abashed fan" of Bruckheimer's films; yes they're often big, loud, dumb and insane, but I respond to the big loud dumb insanity. I thought when I saw The Rock, "that was the only time I've enjoyed getting a headache." I admit to (initially, at least) unironic enjoyment of Top Gun (mmmm...mid-Eighties Kelly McGillis...). And I've paid attention to Bruckheimer's career; in fact, he was one of the first producers whose work I followed. (I also followed that of his partner Don Simpson, up to his death in 1996; it's weird to me that the University of Oregon's best-known alumni filmmakers are Simpson and James Ivory.)
I haven't watched as much of Bruckheimer's TV work, but I did note how he became a huge force to be reckoned with there. This success wasn't overnight; his Nineties TV efforts were flops (the syndicated show Soldier of Fortune, Inc. and the TV movie Max Q, about a space shuttle's emergency landing in Los Angeles). Still, it wasn't too long before he started executive producing CSI, which took on a life of its own and became kind of CBS's answer to Law & Order, just more eccentric.
And that's the word that comes to my mind more with Bruckheimer's work: he seems to be letting it be more eccentric. Three hours of CSI a week focus on forensic-expert eccentrics and the unusual people they investigate. (I've had this thought before: a character in Highlander is in Forensics, and when I saw that film I thought, "Does Forensics attract oddballs?") I doubt that many other prime-time shows would've made a recurring character out of a madam like Lady Heather, let alone let her be a nuanced, sympathetic character. Law & Order would've gone the "Ewwwwww, kink!" route with a character like hers.
(I should admit I've tried all three L&O shows, and never got into them, though I was impressed with an early Criminal Intent from before the great Vincent D'Onofrio's breakdown. I tried Special Victims Unit when it debuted because of Richard Belzer as Munch -- I was a huge Homicide: Life on the Street fan -- but SVU ran on Mondays, at the time my longest and most intense day at work at the newspaper. Monday nights I wasn't in the mood for fictional murder and intensity, let alone a weekly reminder of just how wrong sex can go; eventually I started saving Thursday night's Whose Line Is It Anyway? for Monday viewing instead. So my knowledge of L&O is superficial, even more so than CSI.)
This oddness didn't start with CSI, of course: I loved Con Air (and, after seeing it, spent my entire drive back to my folks' place wondering how in the hell I'd sum up the running gag with the Corvette, and decided I couldn't); later Mike "Culture Pulp" Russell pointed out that Con Air is practically a parody of the insane Nineties action movie, and I realized that that was a big part of why I'd liked it; it was like Bruckheimer was taking the piss out of his own work. (Plus the film seemed to be aiming for a record number of Quips Per Minute: "One move and the bunny gets it!") John Malkovich, while admittedly doing the film for the paycheck, actually seemed to be relaxed and enjoying himself, and in the process he avoided the laziness that's a giant pitfall of some of his work. Nicolas Cage is nuts here, in a good way. Plus Con Air introduced me to the great Dave Chappelle; yes, Chappelle's done a Bruckheimer film!
But the eccentric side of Bruckheimer's work started getting more obvious with the first Pirates of the Caribbean film: hiring the director of Mousehunt (which I actually liked in its grungy weirdness) and the Budweiser Frogs commercials for an action epic was one sign of that. Writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio et. al. wrote an often odd script, and when Johnny Depp (who'd never starred in that large of a film) read it, he decided on his famous "pirate Keith Richards" interpretation of Captain Jack, and I wondered if this resulted in the writers rewriting it to make the film odder. Certainly the sequels -- also produced very, very quickly (each film only had about one year of total production, which is insane for movies that huge) -- grew weirder, and the third film gets so Terry Gilliam-ish (especially with Jack's delusions and sailing over the edge of the freakin' world) that I started to think things had been lifted straight from Gilliam's films. It seemed that, at some level, Bruckheimer had told his crew, "You can do whatever you want on these films as long as you get them done." And during the third film's production, how did Bruckheimer honor his crew's work? With gifts of a special Pirates of the Caribbean rum.
Not all of his work reflects that eccenticity, particulaly his PG-rated stuff (though Remember the Titans is a good, straight-arrow, straight-ahead entertainment; it didn't need to be eccentric). He's less likely to really surprise you (you know what would've been surprising in Crimson Tide? If the submarine surfaced at the end to find out that nuclear war had started). I have no interest in National Treasure nor its upcoming sequel. Glory Road likely tried too hard to replicate Titans's success and failed to be compelling. Kangeroo Jack was a miscalculation of "what were they thinking?" proportions; the trailer almost made me break out in hives. I've heard mixed things about his TV show Without A Trace, and have heard nothing about Cold Case so I can't and won't analyze it. But I get the impression that The Amazing Race has a real DIY feel to it that a lot of prime-time doesn't have, and it makes stars out of regular people who get to show that they're resourceful and offbeat (and capable of moments that are almost poetic: "My ox is broken!"). He's also been trying different kinds of projects for a long time, so that he doesn't seem to be repeating himself; sequels to Bruckheimer productions are still rare, compared to his total output. He's capable of producing as sad a film as Black Hawk Down; that's the rare Bruckheimer work about a tragedy. He's even tried his hand at science fiction with last year's Deja Vu, which I heard was pretty good.
As time's gone on, Jerry Bruckheimer seems to have let his freak flag fly higher. And I think that's a big reason why I keep paying him attention.
Am I talking out my ass here? Discuss.