Tom Cruise and Mel Gibson

Tom Cruise
and Mel Gibson have never appeared together in a movie for the same reasons LeBron James and Dwyane Wade won't play on the same basketball team: No one can afford their combined salaries, and their agents could never agree on star billing.

At least, that was the case before the two movie stars fell from grace. With oodles of bad press and the related failures of their most recent movies (Gibson's 'Edge of Darkness' and Cruise's 'Knight and Day'), maybe someone should cast them in the same picture. I think now they might fit under a producer's salary cap.
Tom Cruise and Mel Gibson

Tom Cruise
and Mel Gibson have never appeared together in a movie for the same reasons LeBron James and Dwyane Wade won't play on the same basketball team: No one can afford their combined salaries, and their agents could never agree on star billing. (Ed. note: Who knew?)

At least, that was the case before the two movie stars fell from grace. With oodles of bad press and the related failures of their most recent movies (Gibson's 'Edge of Darkness' and Cruise's 'Knight and Day'), maybe someone should cast them in the same picture. I think now they might fit under a producer's salary cap.

The movie would have to be one where they play off their individual strengths -- Cruise's killer smile, Gibson's self-deprecating humor -- while coming off as equally adorable to audiences. It would need to be more than a routine buddy movie, one where their characters' relationship is complicated by the contrasting levels of their confidence (Gibson's) and cockiness (Cruise's). A comedy, yes, but one with an edge, a few delicate twists and turns and the mother of all pigs-in-slop happy endings.

Redford NewmanLadies and gentlemen, I give you a remake of George Roy Hill's 1973 Oscar winner 'The Sting,' with Gibson in the Paul Newman role of super-cool '30s con man Harry Gondorff and Cruise in the Robert Redford role of the dashingly handsome young Chicago street hustler Johnny Hooker. Throw in James Gandolfini in the Robert Shaw role of gangster Doyle Lonnegan, and you've got both a hit movie and a riveting tale of Hollywood redemption.

Yeah, I know, if only ...

If only Gibson had learned to bite his tongue after his anti-Semitic rant during a drunk driving arrest and hadn't gone on to dump his long-suffering wife and mother of his six kids, then gotten caught on tape telling his ex-girlfriend that she dresses in a way that would get her raped "by a pack of [n-words]."

If only Cruise had stopped playing the fool after leaping on Oprah Winfrey's couch, instead of going on to publicly attack actress Brooke Shields for taking FDA-approved medications for postpartum depression instead of the Scientology-approved vitamins he would have prescribed.

But for those "ifs," the damaged reputations of the once invincible, $20 million-plus-5-percent-of-the-back-end marquee magnets might have been repaired.

They were certainly fine before ...

Before
Gibson went mad in Malibu and asked an arresting officer if he was a Jew, Gibson's most controversial act was directing a Bible drama in a dead language that -- in scooping up more than 370 million Christian-American dollars from the theatrical collection plate -- disproved Jesus's admonition "Ye cannot serve God and mammon." The movie was also widely branded by non-Christians as anti-Semitic.

Before
Cruise got airborne on 'Oprah,' his greatest public relations gaffe was publicly shopping for Mrs. Cruise 3, whose qualifications seemed to be name recognition in the sphere of movie acting and a willingness to heel on the command of Scientology. Penelope Cruz got a three-year tryout and escaped before she could be audited. Katie Holmes eventually won the title. Cruise Diaz

A critic friend who gave Cruise's 'Knight and Day' a moderately positive review told me he didn't think an actor's off-screen antics should affect his movie's appeal. I agree, though I wouldn't have been attracted to a Cruise/Cameron Diaz action movie before he launched himself into orbit.

I also agree with Cruise defenders who point out that he did real acting -- that is, created believable characters in real human situations -- in movies like 'Born on the Fourth of July,' 'Magnolia' and 'Jerry Maguire,' all of which earned him Oscar nominations.

On that score, Cruise has a more credible acting resume than Gibson, who's won Oscars for directing and producing 'Braveheart,' but not a single acting nod. In fairness, Gibson did some solid dramatic work in 'Gallipoli,' 'Mrs. Soffel' and 'The Year of Living Dangerously' early in his career, but after becoming a bonafide box office star with the first 'Lethal Weapon' movie in 1987, he's been content working mostly in star vehicles.

A mid-career exception for Gibson was the 1993 'The Man Without a Face,' a delicate drama in which he directed himself in a story about a disfigured social outcast and his relationship with a troubled teenager. The movie didn't win any awards or make much money, but it seemed to suggest a change in Gibson's career trajectory. During the Cannes Film Festival a year before that picture's release, a Warner Bros. publicist invited me to a chalet in the hills above Cannes for a chat with Gibson.

There was no stated agenda, no impending movie for him to promote. It was, I was told, just an opportunity for me to talk to him about Icon Productions, the indie company he had formed with his Australian partner Bruce Davey. At that hourlong session, Gibson described 'The Man With No Face,' prompting me to wonder if in creating his own production company he intended to emulate Clint Eastwood's successful long-term relationship with Warner Bros.

For decades, Eastwood had been alternating commercial studio movies with personal projects developed through his own production company. Gibson said he'd created Icon simply to make movies that interested him, and when I saw 'The Man With No Face' the next year I thought, "Well, OK, he wants to do serious dramas." But then came 'Maverick,' 'Braveheart' and 'Ransom,' and Movie Star Mel was back on track.

Only later did it become apparent that he'd created Icon with the long-range goal of being able to finance the movie of his soul's yearning, 'The Passion of the Christ.' As with 'The Man With No Faith,' I was more bemused than anything by 'Passion' and its commercial success. I thought of it as less a movie than an R-rated religious experience, two hours of empathetic communal suffering. It's well-made if you can look past the sadistic impulses of men torturing Christ and the director yelling 'Action!' Gibson managed the near-impossible, though: He created a blockbuster out of a freak of Hollywood nature.

If not for Gibson's revealing rants to Malibu police and his ex-girlfriend, I would have forgiven his 'Passion' aberration and returned to enjoying his performances in conventional movies. He'd rarely failed me in those. But racism in Gibson is as hard to overlook as anti-science crapola in Cruise, and at their ages -- Gibson is 54, Cruise 48 -- they can't afford any more mistakes, either behind or in front of the camera.

I say if they're going to throw Hail Mary passes, as Cruise seems ready to do in a proposed feature in which he'd star as the outrageously broad cameo character he played in 'Tropic Thunder,' throw a really long one. Get together, fellas, buy the rights to a 'Sting' remake and just do what Newman and Redford did in it.

Touchdown, I'm telling you.