Back in 1996, director Scott Hicks burst onto the international cinema scene with his art house hit ‘Shine’, which went on to be nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director. Today (literally today), Hicks’ latest movie ‘The Lucky One’ is a generic weepy romance starring Zac Efron that was adapted from a Nicholas Sparks book. I guess a fella’s gotta eat. Today’s Roundtable takes a look at other obvious “sell-out” movies made by talented (or at least once-talented) people clearly just cashing a paycheck on projects beneath their abilities.
If we were going to crown a Heavyweight Champeen of Sell-Outs, I think that title would have to go to Adam Sandler. He’s proven that time and time again with recent crap like ‘Grown Ups‘, ‘Just Go with It‘, and especially ‘Jack and Jill‘, all of which are the epitome of lazy-ass cash-ins. The Adam Sandler we used to love is still in there somewhere (I think) and has the talent to make a decent movie when he really wants to, but lately it’s almost as if he’s become bored making people laugh. Now, in order to keep himself entertained, he’s testing to see how little effort he can put into a film and still walk away with millions of dollars in his pocket. It’s sad. And guess what? ‘Grown Ups 2’ just went into production. Ugh.
Not to be flip, but talented as Eddie Murphy is, I don’t think there’s an actor working today who has so clearly made almost every movie simply for the paycheck. When he was on ‘Inside the Actor’s Studio’, he told James Lipton, flat-out, that every mistake he’d ever made was because he always went for the money. In that same interview, he repeatedly referred to Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen as “billionaires” and “rich guys” who kept telling him to do ‘Dreamgirls’ and “forget about the money.” Murphy has got to be classified as super-rich, but for some reason, he still sees everything through that financial prism. Even though ‘Dreamgirls’ contains what is arguably one of his best performances in decades, it’s obvious that it irked him, just a bit, not to cash a $20 million dollar check to make that movie. Even though he was obviously very proud of the film, watch that interview and see how many times he mentions money. It’s telling, to say the least.
Now look at his filmography. Aside from the films I listed above, many of them with disclaimers suggesting that they could very well be happy accidents that resulted from talented collaborators coming to the production along with the big paychecks, to me it seems obvious that the reason Murphy’s films have been so overwhelmingly bad throughout his career is that the quality of the work has always come second to the size of the paycheck. I think Murphy is hilarious when he’s on his game, and he’s clearly got dramatic chops that he’s rarely if ever shown, which makes it almost tragic that even with millions upon millions upon millions of dollars, he always thinks of the money first and the quality of the work second.
Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)
You have kind of a long list of stuff to choose from when it comes to Michael Caine’s “Eh, it’s a paycheck” performances, but the one that stands out in my mind is ‘Jaws: The Revenge’. This is a movie that ranks dizzyingly close to the top of every “Worst Sequel Ever” list you’re likely to come across. ‘Jaws: The Revenge’ was nominated in seemingly every category at the Razzies, which is kinda funny considering that Caine missed out on collecting his Academy Award for ‘Hannah and Her Sisters’ during its production. He’s only in the movie for, like, twenty minutes, but he makes up for that with at least two hours’ worth of delirious hamminess. At least Caine has a good sense of humor about it. He’s been widely quoted as once having said, “I have never seen the film, but by all accounts it was terrible. However, I have seen the house that it built, and it is terrific.”
It’s funny that we’re talking about paycheck movies. Now, I know that Shaq isn’t considered one of Hollywood’s top talents (or even a talent at all) but he recently dispelled the truth of why he did ‘Kazaam’. He told GQ magazine: “I was a medium-level juvenile delinquent from Newark who always dreamed about doing a movie. Someone said, ‘Hey, here’s $7 million, come in and do this genie movie’. What am I going to say, no? So I did it.” And similarly, down through the ages of acting, well-known and even beloved actors have stooped to making movies simply because the money was too enticing. Seriously, what were they going to do? As Shaq so eloquently states, there was no way in hell he could say no to all those zeroes.
The biggest paycheck whores also happen to be actors we all love when they’re in something good. Samuel L. Jackson is one of the worst offenders, having been in such non-classics as the ‘Star Wars’ prequels and ‘The Spirit‘. Actually, everyone involved in ‘The Spirit’ most likely did that for the money, right?
As much as I’ll defend Nicolas Cage, he sure does have a reputation of taking jobs just so he can make a quick buck. With all his tax problems, he has to take any role he can get. ‘Bangkok Dangerous‘, ‘Ghost Rider‘, and ‘National Treasure 2‘ were all paycheck movies plain and simple. They offered him a big payday and he took it, even if it meant sporting the world’s most ridiculous action mullet in ‘Bangkok Dangerous’.
I don’t mean to knock all actors who begin on television, but they seem to be some of the worst paycheck actors. Think back to big television series and their actors who tried to have film careers. Almost of them end up making awful films. Out of the ‘Friends’ cast, only one has gone on to anything noteworthy. Matt LeBlanc’s movies are terrible. Need I mention ‘Lost in Space‘? Matthew Perry’s film career was also short lived. ‘Fools Rush In’, anyone? Ross made ‘The Pallbearer’. Phoebe made ‘Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion’. Monica appears in Adam Sandler movies. Jennifer Aniston is the only one who has made some decent movies.
Dexter made ‘Gamer‘. Anything with David Caruso is atrocious – including his TV shows. TV actors make the worst paycheck actors.
M. Enois Duarte
How convenient that this week’s topic is called “Paycheck” movies, because I was actually thinking of Ben Affleck as the perfect example of a big name (however unfortunate that is) who’s only in it for the money. Sure, ‘Paycheck‘ is a good starting point for an actor who showed promise in ‘Dazed and Confused‘ and ‘Good Will Hunting‘ and surprised everyone with ‘Hollywoodland’. But I would argue that his trajectory towards sell-out started with ‘Armageddon‘. That’s a movie I actually enjoy for its summer blockbuster escapism, yet I have to admit that Affleck is only there to attract the female audience with the movie’s love story angle. Look at his list of films that soon followed, eventually hitting the motherload with ‘Pearl Harbor‘. Before Michael Bay’s apocalyptic actioner, Affleck genuinely seemed like a fine, promising actor, but his role in ‘Armageddon’ did nothing to display his talent and served only as an obvious meal ticket.
Everyone else here decided to call out paycheck movies starring particular actors, but I wanted to highlight the sad fall from grace of a director, the amazingly talented Francis Ford Coppola. After a triumphant run in the 1970s that included the first two ‘Godfather‘ films, ‘The Conversation‘ and ‘Apocalypse Now‘, Coppola hit hard times with the failure of his musical passion project ‘One from the Heart’. The 1982 film was such a disastrous bomb that it bankrupted his studio, American Zoetrope, and left the director in financial ruin. He then suffered a string of further flops throughout the 1980s, including the big-budget Oscar bait project ‘The Cotton Club’.
By the 1990s, Coppola made no bones about the fact that he’d lost interest in filmmaking and would only return to the director’s chair to collect paychecks that would finance his winery business. Paramount lured him back for a third ‘Godfather’ entry despite his earlier insistence that the saga was complete with ‘Part II’. Although regarded as inferior to its predecessors, the movie was a financial success and still showed some signs of Coppola’s talent. The director even seemed artistically inspired during ‘Bram Stoker’s Dracula‘, which wound up being one of his biggest hits.
Sadly, by the back end of the ’90s, Coppola pretty much stopped giving a damn altogether. The nadir of this period, and the director’s career, would be ‘Jack’, the 1996 ‘Big’ rip-off in which Robin Williams plays a 10-year-old boy trapped in an adult’s body. The movie is absolutely atrocious and, worse, totally impersonal. It could have been directed by anybody. There’s no sign of Francis Ford Coppola behind the wheel at all. It’s painful to watch.
A successful lawsuit against Warner Bros. at the end of the decade put Coppola back into the financial black. He stepped away from filmmaking until he was ready to return on his own terms with his last few very small, very personal projects. Although I wasn’t particularly a fan of ‘Youth Without Youth‘, the director claims that it reinvigorated his desired to be a filmmaker again. I suppose that’s a good thing, though I fear that the man who gave us the ‘Godfather’ movies and ‘Apocalypse Now’ may be too far gone.
Those are our picks. What “paycheck” movies do you wish had never been made?