What is THAT actor doing in such an obviously stupid movie? Surely you’ve asked that question after watching a trailer for a dumb (often big-budget) movie featuring otherwise respectable actors slumming in a project beneath their talents. Perhaps it even came to mind when you noticed Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore in this week’s fantasy boondoggle ‘Seventh Son’? For today’s Roundtable, let’s look at some other famous cases of talented actors appearing in movies you wouldn’t expect.
I’m not going to pick the likes of Robert De Niro, Al Pacino or Morgan Freeman for this week’s topic. All three of those actors have made careers out of cashing-in on movies lesser than their talents just to get a nice paycheck. But what the hell was one of our greatest living actors, Gene Hackman, doing in ‘Welcome to Mooseport‘? Had this happened mid-way through Hackman’s brilliant career, I might forgive the man… but this was his last movie! I hope he was doing it as a favor for one of the cast or crew, or perhaps saw a script that was much better than the final product.
We really deserved more from his swan song as a performer. In fact, someone needs to lure Gene out of retirement one last time (maybe Clint Eastwood could do it), so my last memory of him on screen isn’t slumming with Ray Romano.
The Robin Williams comedy ‘A Merry Friggin’ Christmas‘ was bizarre in countless ways. The question could be asked “What is Williams doing in this?” or “What is Candice Bergen doing in it?”, or really “What are ANY of these people doing in it?!!” But the one name that left me the most bewildered was Oliver Platt.
I like Platt, and think his performances are often the overlooked leavening agents in what otherwise would have been some pretty flat productions, but I cannot for the life of me figure out why he took the part of a urine-soaked, drunken Santa in this sad, sad movie. He does nothing of note. There are no clever twists involving his character. We never even see his face. When we watched this out of morbid curiosity, my wife and I both muttered, “Is that Oliver Platt? What the heck is he doing in this?”
Jim Carrey appears in two films that I absolutely love: ‘The Truman Show’ and ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless’. The latter is one of my favorite films of all time. Carrey inhabits both roles with brooding emotion and vulnerability. His performances are so strong, and even acclaimed, that it’s shocking to see what he’s done since then. Taking roles in ‘Man on the Moon’ and ‘The Majestic’ was wise, but slumming it in ‘Me, Myself & Irene‘, ‘The Number 23‘ and ‘Mr. Popper’s Penguins‘ was unforgivable. His awful decisions ruined his momentum. Seeing how low he’s stooped is embarrassing. Had he kept moving upward, perhaps we’d still only have one good ‘Dumb and Dumber’ movie.
I’m going with two examples, one that everybody knows and one that few probably know. The first would be Jason Statham (along with everyone else) in ‘In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale‘. How the Uwe Boll fail train lasted so long and netted so many famous actors I’ll never really comprehend.
My less obvious example is ‘City by the Sea‘ (2002). It seems like most of the $40 million budget went to pay Robert De Niro. The rest of the cast (Francis McDormand, James Franco, etc.) all worked to make this simply plotted movie entertaining, but it’s too sedate to be memorable beyond the casting.
Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)
Hey, remember that time when Henry Fonda and John Huston fought a giant rubber octopus? 1977’s ‘Tentacles‘ was another in a long line of Italian mockbusters: schlocky, no-budget dreck that’d shamelessly lift the general premise of an American hit (sometimes made so quickly and cheaply that they’d even arrive in theaters first!), maybe throw in a fading international star or two, and grab whatever cash spills out from a bigger, better movie’s coattails. If you’ve been aching to see an Italian remake of ‘Jaws’ with a colossal octopus munching on a baby and duking it out with killer whales, Scream Factory is releasing a double feature of ‘Tentacles’ and ‘Reptilicus’ on Blu-ray this summer.
Chris Boylan (Big Picture Big Sound)
This is an easy one: Sir Alec Guinness in ‘Star Wars‘. Here’s a classically trained, well-respected British actor, having had major roles in ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ and ‘Bridge on the River Kwai’ taking a part in a Hollywood film project by a nearly unknown director, with an unknown cast strictly for the lure of a fat paycheck. (He initially said no, but then acquiesced when the studio doubled his salary and offered a generous share of the back-end.)
Describing the dialogue as “fairy tale rubbish” and “mumbo jumbo” (I wonder what he thought of ‘The Phantom Menace’, if he ever saw it?), Sir Alec went on to make more than $80,000,000 in lifetime royalties for the films, a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination and more fame and recognition than he could have ever dreamed. But did that change his mind? Apparently not. To his death, Mr. Guinness avoided speaking about or promoting the films and reportedly threw away fan mail without opening it.
Producer Jerry Bruckheimer had a truly ingenious idea when he started throwing big sums of money at acclaimed, award-winning actors in order to lend his dumb action movies an air of legitimacy. If all he’d cared about courting was the teenage action-craving audience, he could have sold a movie like ‘The Rock‘ with just about any B-list actors in the leads. Instead, he hired Nicolas Cage fresh off his Oscar win for ‘Leaving Las Vegas’ (remember, Cage was once considered an exciting talent before his later career downturn) and the legendary Sean Connery – James Bond himself! This was a very startling move that suddenly attracted a brand new audience of fans of those stars, who wouldn’t normally have paid to see such a movie.
To my mind, Bruckheimer’s greatest coup was getting John Malkovich to appear as the loose-screw villain in ‘Con Air‘. Prior to that movie, Malkovich was known as a very serious – and I think it’s fair to say pretentious – actor in estimable films like ‘Dangerous Liaisons’ and ‘Of Mice and Men’. He even treated his turn as the villain in the blockbuster ‘In the Line of Fire’ with the utmost seriousness. Yet in ‘Con Air’, Bruckheimer and director Simon West somehow got Malkovich to unleash his inner ham that had been dying to bust out. It’s the first time he’d actually seemed to have fun in a movie. Malkovich not only elevated the material, the movie allowed him to explore his unexpected talent for comedy and opened up a whole new phase in his career.
Tell us in the Comments about some other obvious cases of big-name actors slumming in silly projects that might seem beneath them.