Robert De Niro, once one of the most vital actors of his generation if not all time, has yet another bland, forgettable comedy coming out this week. He’s made a lot of those in the last decade and a half. In this week’s Roundtable, we look at some other sad cases of actors who’ve simply lost their edge.
Keep in mind that any actor might make one bad (or simply underwhelming) movie when in need of a paycheck. What we’re looking for here are people whose careers have taken a decided trend downwards in their later years.
It’s almost as if, after Al Pacino finally won his first Oscar for 1992’s ‘Scent of a Woman’, he stopped trying to impress people. He still gave a few good performances in the years that followed (like the underrated ‘Donnie Brasco’ and his turn in ‘The Insider’), but for the most part, Pacino has been spending the last twenty years either over-acting or simply phoning it in.
In fact, the only good roles Pacino seems to do these days are for HBO TV movies or miniseries. His theatrical efforts, however, are nothing short of laughable. This is the guy who chose to do BOTH ‘Gigli’ and ‘Jack and Jill‘, cementing his legacy as an Oscar winner who was not in just one – but TWO – of cinema’s worst movies ever. The rest of the résumé doesn’t look great either: ‘S1m0ne’, ‘The Recruit’, ‘Two for the Money’, ’88 Minutes’, ‘Righteous Kill’, and even a few so bad you’ve probably never heard of them, like ‘People I Know’ and ‘The Humbling’.
Pacino can’t possibly be doing this for the money, right? Is he just one of those guys who always wants to be working? Who knows? But it seems like such a waste of good talent. I’d rather see this guy pop up on screen every five years in something good than five times a year in titles that range from mediocre to horrible.
What the hell has happened to John Cusack? Aside from the recent ‘Love & Mercy’, the actor has been making Top Ten lists of crap for years now. Some of his direct-to-video flicks seem to have been shot in a rotating, speed-dating approach. (I swear he’s wearing the same exact costume in the trailers for ‘Reclaim‘ and ‘Drive Hard‘.)
I’ve seen Cusack quoted several times as saying of the current superhero trend: “Now they just want you to put on tights. If you don’t put on the tights, they just want to get rid of you. And I’m not putting on the tights. So you know…” Would being in a Marvel movie be worse than being in ‘Con Air‘, ‘2012‘, or any of the Bruce Willis-level schlock he’s shot the last few years?
Both Robert Redford and Michael Douglas have turned in memorable performances in movies involving tights. The same goes for Robert Downey, Jr. I love John Cusack, but the three guys I just mentioned are all far more compelling actors. John, for f@ck’s sake, put on the goddamn tights!
After landing on the map with ‘Star Wars’, Harrison Ford used to exclusively star in fantastic films. When he wasn’t making great ‘Indiana Jones’ movies, his career in the 1980s and early ’90s was full of strong performances: ‘Blade Runner’, ‘Witness’, ‘The Mosquito Coast’, ‘Frantic’, ‘Presumed Innocent, two ‘Jack Ryan’ films, ‘The Fugitive’. The deeper into the ’90s you look, the worse his movies became. The descent started with ‘Air Force One‘, got worse with ‘Six Days Seven Nights’ and led up to the worst title in his resume: ‘Hollywood Homicide’. Ford has phoned-in nearly every role since then. In ‘Firewall’, ‘Extraordinary Measures’, ‘Morning Glory’, ‘Cowboys & Aliens’, ‘Ender’s Game’ and ‘The Expendables 3’, his performances showed that he could not have cared less about his work. They felt like purely paycheck films. Here’s hoping that he gives a damn about ‘Star Wars’ come December.
Chris Chiarella (Sound & Vision)
Meaning no disrespect, what the heck happened to Eddie Murphy? Following his groundbreaking, must-see work on ‘Saturday Night Live’, the actor burst onto movie screens with a series of R-rated action comedies (and just plain comedies) that challenged the status quo of African-Americans in Hollywood but also spoke the state of race relations in our society at the time. While the movie doesn’t hold up all that well in my opinion, I would still contend that Murphy’s foul-mouthed, formidable Axel Foley in ‘Beverly Hills Cop’ was a modern-day Mr. Tibbs, a fish out of water who refused to bow to anyone.
More than 30 years later, Murphy has performed legendarily raunchy standup routines, and later wowed us in the world of animation, using his undeniable skills to charm us in the ‘Shrek’ movies and even Disney’s ‘Mulan’. So why the switch to a seemingly endless series of toothless family comedies? I won’t rattle off a full list of his misfires, but the timing of ‘Norbit‘ had people wondering if his Oscar nomination for ‘Dreamgirls’ was a mistake. ‘Imagine That‘ was utterly forgettable, and despite a promising high concept, ‘A Thousand Words‘ bombed theatrically before limping quietly onto home video.
Marlon Brando is pretty much the poster child for actors who simply stop giving a shit. The man was once a legendary screen presence whose fiery passion riveted audiences in movies like ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ and ‘On the Waterfront’. Throughout the 1950s, his dedication to the Method style of acting helped to revolutionize the way that film actors approached their craft. Even as late as his 1972 one-two punch of ‘The Godfather’ and ‘Last Tango in Paris’, his name and star power could still sell a movie.
Unfortunately, as the years went on, Brando grew more cantankerous and difficult to work with. His feuds with directors often became more notable than the movies they made together. He cut way back on his acting, and made no bones about the fact that he’d only accept a job when he needed money. When he did appear on screen, his performances became bizarrely affected and outlandish. The quality of his work hit its nadir in the 1996 sci-fi flop ‘The Island of Dr. Moreau’, his role in which was later endlessly parodied in numerous episodes of ‘South Park’. This was truly a sad decline for one of cinema’s greatest icons.
Which other actors and actresses have suffered disappointing career declines in their later years? Tell us about them in the Comments.