Washington -- There's no business as cruel as show business, no business I know.
Take the case of Anthony Michael Hall . . . please.
Not 10 years ago he was the Macauley Culkin of the '80s. In two successive John Hughes films -- "16 Candles" and "The Breakfast Club" -- his cute freckled face, his thatch of red straw hair, and his ingratiating ways propelled him into the status of American icon. He was the geek as boy next door, Peck's bad boy, Peter Pan and Huck Finn all rolled up into one.
And then a terrible thing happened.
He grew up.
"I firmly believe," says 23-year-old Anthony Michael Hall, "that a major screen comedy is going to come my way this year."
To be with "Michael," as he introduces himself, is to enter a strange twilit world somewhat like the palace on the last day of the reign of some Ottoman despot, carrying on about being the (( Ruler of the Universe while the rebels execute his cabinet in the courtyard. It is to be with a young man surrounded by doting hangers-on who bow and scrape to his every wish and treat his outrageous behavior as the lovable minor indulgences of a genius. It is, most of all, to enter the strange world of Anthony Michael Hall, the once and future star.
"I'm a very talented kid," he insists three times, when he is not trying to score with a profoundly humiliated waitress.
"I'm in love," he says to her. "Thumpa-thumpa, that's my heart, you coming to New York?"
The young woman smiles that plastic professional grimace that is only half in courtesy and the other half in pain. She's probably been hit on by real pros in her time but this is so . . . degrading, somehow, so . . . public.
"Hah? You're my dream girl," he tells her. "And, c'n I have $H another coke?"
"That's Michael," says his manager, smilingly helplessly. "Whacan I say? The man only has one vice."
Maybe so, but it doesn't look like he's going to be able to practice it today.
Anthony Michael Hall is no longer cute. His features have thickened and coarsened, he has a stubble of beard and a thick, meaty frame. His bones are swaddled in flesh and his eyes look distant and unfocused. A little dab of reddish goatee cups his chin. He is before us today because of a film called "Into the Sun," which is a lame parody of "Top Gun" and "The Hard Way" woven around some footage of training missions flown by the Peruvian Air Force in F-16s.
Now he's at that horrid stage, trying to edge his way out of charmingly callow adolescence into adulthood. This is a trick brought off by Jody Foster and exactly nobody else.
"The age thing. I didn't think about it. I just kept working and let everyone else be skeptical."
He recalls his comet-like surge through the Hughes universe: "I was so young. I had such an incredible time of growth and change. John Hughes was my best friend and mentor. He wrote '16 Candles' with me in mind."
"I regret to inform you that I haven't seen or talked to him in 4 1/2 years. I can't call him up any more. There's lots of pain in that."
Then there was the terrible misfortune of "Saturday Night Live." The show has made stars out of dozens of young performers; everyone it has touched it enlarged. Except for Anthony Michael Hall, dropped after one season in which, show by show, his parts got smaller and smaller.
"They were ------- idiots. They had no ------ idea how to write for me. They had no affection for my abilities. They didn't know how to write for me. I feel like I'm a talented kid and if people recognize it, that's great."
Rotten movies followed, including the leads in two all but forgotten melodramas, "Johnny B. Goode" and "Out of Bounds." A minor role as a villain in "Edward Scissorhands." And now "Into the Sun." And what's next?
"I have to tell you my deepest dream is to work with Meryl Streep." Yeah. Uh-huh.