Charlie Sheen has been getting away with it for so long that getting away with it was starting to bore him. And so he kicked things up a notch and started rubbing our noses in it. If you doubt this, take a look at the new Fiat ad. I'm tempted to call it the new Charlie Sheen ad, because that's what it's really selling. The title of the Fiat ad is "House Arrest." It portrays Sheen as the freest man alive.
A party in a McMansion is rattled by the roar of an engine. A car zips through the house, tires squealing. The guests stare after it, slack-jawed: This is the most amazing thing they've ever seen. The car screeches to a halt. Close-up of the driver's left leg stepping onto the floor: There's a monitoring bracelet clamped around the ankle. Cut to reveal: Charlie Sheen.
"I love bein' under house arrest!" he says into the camera. He hugs a model, checks her out, and purrs, "What do I get for good behavior?" Then he looks into the camera again with as much of a twinkle as his dead eyes can muster. "Not all bad boys are created equal," the title cards assure us.
Charlie Sheen is no longer an actor. He's a brand. He's such a big star now that car companies are advertising him.
Can you imagine Ryan O'Neal or Mel Gibson appearing in an ad like this? Or Rush Limbaugh? Of course not. Only Sheen could be this brazen. If you look at the arc of his life and work with a coldly scientific, showbiz-historical eye, it's amazing, maybe unprecedented. Sheen is sleaze personified and lavishly compensated: a moral disaster playing himself; William Shatner from hell.
He broke through in 1986's Ferris Bueller's Day Off, playing a spaced-out stoner who picks up the hero's goody-two-shoes sister in a police station, and with occasional exceptions, such as his work for Oliver Stone, he's continued in that vein ever since. In the late nineties, Sheen got hired to replace Michael J. Fox on Spin City in part because he came with his own pre-established, tabloid-enhanced persona, the hell-raiser who was just barely worth the trouble. Sheen rolled this over into Two and a Half Men playing the Mephistopheles of Malibu, an evangelist for sin. On both sitcoms, his characters were named Charlie. Men kept employing Sheen even after he was accused of violence against his wife* Brooke Mueller, but kicked him to the curb after he insulted his boss in an interview. He walked away with millions and sued for millions more. He tweeted caustic bebop word salad, sold tickets to a non-apology tour, went through rehab yet again, and reemerged on a Comedy Central Friar's Club Roast, making his entrance in an animated credits sequence scored to "Highway to Hell." His forthcoming FX sitcom is Anger Management, the title of which turns his history of drunken rampages and domestic violence allegations into a cutesy marketing ploy. (Which hates women more, the GOP or Hollywood?)
And now Fiat is attaching itself to Sheen, hopping his vampire pixie dust will rub off on their cars. There's Voldemort magic in his career arc. At the rate he's going, he'll be president by 2024, if he doesn't die in a brothel first.
* Corrected to show Mueller was not Sheen's girlfriend, but his wife at the time.