A waitress comes to the table shared by producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, and describes the pasta special. ''Does it have oil?'' Simpson asks. ''Does it have cream? Exactly how is it made?'' The waitress answers, and Simpson orders the pasta.
Bruckheimer looks up from his lap. ''Tell me about the pasta special,'' he says. ''Exactly how is it made?''
Simpson sighs. ''Welcome to our world.''
It's a fine place to be right now, circling in the orbit of Simpson and Bruckheimer's table at the L.A. Farm restaurant in Santa Monica, on the Monday following the $15.5 million opening of Martin Lawrence and Will Smith's cop-edy thriller Bad Boys. Once seen as the class bullies, the film's producers are now being treated like homecoming kings, and people can't touch their hems fast enough. Joe Roth, their boss at Disney, strolls up, saying, ''I've come to pay homage.'' Various editors, writers, and executives crane their necks to meet Simpson's or Bruckheimer's eyes, to give them a thumbs-up, or mouth ''Way to go!'' The partners smile, wave, and say the right things. Their private tone, however, isn't quite as celebratory. ''Been there, done that,'' Bruckheimer says in his quiet, even voice. ''We're always waiting for the next shoe to drop.''
If Hollywood had a scavenger hunt, the easiest item to find would be a nasty story about Simpson and Bruckheimer. Both have been knocked for their supposed vanity and insistence on having it their way, all the way, whether it's a $12 bowl of spaghetti or a $50 million movie. The quintessential producers of the gilded '80s, they spun through the decade, moving from one hit to another, turning mediocre scripts like Flashdance and Top Gun and Beverly Hills Cop(I and II) into gold mines, with loud music and even louder explosions. They also garnered reputations as men who could earn millions fast, spend it faster, and still find the time for a good hissy fit. ''I would acknowledge that in the past we had a tendency to be 'out there,''' says Simpson. ''And sometimes, the glitz got in the way.''
These days, the boys though they won't give their ages, Simpson is reportedly 49 and Bruckheimer 50 are doing their best to behave. Bruckheimer is formal in manner and clothing (sporting a most un-L.A.-like gray suit); Simpson, dressed in a blazer and jeans, is verbose but chooses his words carefully. While Simpson and Bruckheimer refute the tales told out of school that they control their press and publicity photographs; that they terrify their employees; that Simpson at one time discarded clothes after they had been washed only once there's one they don't deny. That's the saga of their downfall, when, in 1990, their success unraveled at a faster pace than they could even begin to match in their $70,000 black Ferraris. ''It was fun,'' says Simpson of the high times, ''but it became painful, because people didn't really like us.''
''In the '80s, it was cool at one point to be the ugliest, meanest, most selfish bastard in the world.''
Christian Wagner, editor of Bad Boys