'Iron Man 2,' 'Perry Mason,' 'Sherlock Holmes'

They say if you want to get something done, you should give the task to a person who's already busy. Maybe that explains the deal announced earlier Wednesday for Robert Downey Jr. to possibly star in a newly-launched 'Perry Mason' movie franchise. For those keeping score at home, this would be the actor's third active franchise, after 'Iron Man' and 'Sherlock Holmes.' Which made us wonder: does RDJ really have time to star in three huge blockbuster franchises at once? Is he spreading himself too thin? Should we applaud him for his ambitious scheduling or disdain him for monopolizing the limited pool of franchise material out there for fortysomething actors?
Maybe he could share the wealth a little? After all, it's hard to think of Perry Mason without imagining Raymond Burr, the plus-size actor who played the lawyer/sleuth for decades on TV. Then again, who among current stars is imposing and charismatic enough to wield Burr's briefcase? Russell Crowe might display the menacing bulk, but not necessarily the nimble intellect; vice versa for George Clooney. The slight Downey can't match Burr's physique, but he has an in-your-face physical presence (see his bare-chested fight scene in 'Sherlock Holmes') as well as the mental agility. Maybe Warner Bros. really did cast the best actor for the role and not just one who's on a current hot streak.

It's not unprecedented for a star to have two franchises going at once. The epic-length shoot of 'The Lord of the Rings' trilogy was a haven for actors moonlighting from other simultaneous franchises -- Ian McKellen ('X-Men'), Christopher Lee (the 'Star Wars' prequels), Hugo Weaving ('The Matrix'). Still, not since Harrison Ford alternated 'Star Wars' movies with Indiana Jones adventures have we seen an actor with a leading role in more than one franchise at a time.

In fact, Downey's only rival for schedule-stacking right now among leading men is Daniel Craig, who has both the James Bond and 'Dragon Tattoo' franchises going. He's also in a third potential franchise launcher, December's 'The Adventures of Tintin,' though he'll be all but unrecognizable (it's a motion-capture animation role) as a villain who is a minor character at best in the Tintin books. Just think: if 'Cowboys & Aliens' or 'The Golden Compass' had been hits, Craig might have been in five franchises at once.

Nonetheless, the 'Perry Mason' deal makes Downey the current king of the blockbuster franchise leading men. It's not clear when the movie will ever get made; Downey has at least one more appearance as Holmes and two more as Iron Man to complete first. Still, I guess we should be happy for the actor. It wasn't long ago that he was all but unemployable in movies. Better to have too much work than too little.

[Top Photo: Paramount/MPTVImages.com/Warner Bros.]

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