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If star power still means anything in Hollywood, then how could the new film “Lions for Lambs” make any less than one billion dollars at the box office?


It’s a trick question.


I don’t really believe that “Lions for Lambs” will make anywhere near one billion dollars. I doubt that it will make one billion pennies.


And this is a film that stars Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep and Robert Redford. Remember when capitalizing a movie star’s name meant something?


Cruise, who plays a hawkish U.S. senator trying to parlay a new military strategy in Afghanistan into the White House, is widely accepted as the biggest movie star in the world, despite the hits he’s taken for his outspoken views. Streep, a veteran reporter in the film, remains the greatest actress of her generation. And Redford, who portrays a college professor trying to re-energize a promising student, is, well, Redford. He may not look like that naval officer in the crisp white uniform whom Barbra Streisand drools over in “The Way We Were” anymore, but he is a genuine Hollywood icon.


Yet, these three stars probably won’t make much of a blip on the radar screen when the film opens on Nov. 9. The reason is two-fold: the political subject matter is a turn-off to a war-weary public desperate for escapist fare, and stars don’t shine as brightly as they once did.


Oh, we still love our stars. We’ll watch them on TV as they are stalked by the paparazzi. We’ll read about their exploits in the tabloids and celebrity magazines. And we’ll act smugly superior when they do something stupid.


But we won’t pluck down $10 just to see them in a movie. Those days are long gone.


They need to be in a movie we want to see. If there happens to be a big star in the movie we want to see, it’s a bonus. But a pretty face, washboard abs or great dimples are no longer enough to entice us into a movie theater.


Let’s look at some of the biggest movies of the last six months.


POP QUIZ ALERT!


A. Name the star of “Transformers?”


B. Name the three stars of “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix?”


C. Name the actor who supplies the voice of the lovable rat in “Ratatouille?”


If you answered (a) Shia LaBeouf, (b) Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson and © Patton Oswalt, you probably cheated because anybody who could answer those questions without looking them up is not reading this column. They’re at the movies.


My point is that these movies did extraordinarily well because people wanted to see them, not because they wanted to see the stars in them. Attention Daniel Radcliffe fans: Please send all complaints to my editor. Thank you.


There are exceptions to any rash generalization, of course, and I offer them at this time. I believe that many people went to see the latest “Pirates of the Caribbean” adventure specifically because Johnny Depp was in it. His Captain Jack/Keith Richards characterization is a Hollywood classic, and is well worth the price of admission, even if the movie around him is not.


And, while the painfully modest Matt Damon would disagree, I believe that “The Bourne Ultimatum” definitely prospered because of Damon’s involvement in it. The Mattster would argue, and has argued, that the director, the script and the music are the real reasons for that franchise’s success.


I could also make a case for Homer Simpson’s importance to “The Simpson’s” movie this summer, but someone might put me back on my medication.


Putting aside those exceptions, it is not a pretty picture, particularly for the pretty faces of Hollywood.


“The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” needs a posse to find an audience, even though Brad Pitt is the star. Who’s getting the most kudos on that movie? The lesser-known Affleck brother, Casey.


And what happened to Jodie Foster’s revenge flick “The Brave One”? Two Oscars don’t go as far as they used to, do they?


George Clooney is the coolest dude in Hollywood. How many of you have seen his well-reviewed film “Michael Clayton?”


“Rendition” stars recent Oscar-winner Reese Witherspoon and boyfriend Jake Gyllenhaal. It’s having trouble climbing the box-office speed bump.


Ben Stiller is arguably the biggest comedy star in the land, but he had trouble generating laughs or box-office revenue for his “The Heartbreak Kid.”


Mark Wahlberg and Joaquin Phoenix put out “We Own the Night,” but didn’t own the box office. Cate Blanchett found nothing golden in “Elizabeth: The Golden Age.” Halle Berry, another Oscar winner, got lost in the shuffle when her new film “Things We Lost in the Fire” hit theaters.


What does this all mean? I’m not sure. All I know is that I can’t wait for that new Tom Hanks movie.

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