by Aaron Peck
Robin Williams is versatile.
Okay, you can stop laughing right now. He is.
Sure, he has his lightning-quick stand up routine, where he rambles on and on, swearing more than he actually says anything, but there are times when he'll surprise you. He's one of those actors that can be insufferable at one moment and genuinely great the next.
Take his dramatic roles for example. He, like a select few funny men, was able to reinvent his persona in a couple of very dark roles that turned out to be his very best. It never stopped him from doing the same old dry comedy shtick though too. Hey, he's got bills to pay afterall.
Since the domestic release 'Good Will Hunting' is coming to Blu-ray at the end of this month, we decided to take this time to look back on Robin Williams' career and discuss his best and worst movies.
Williams' voice is perfect for cartoon voice work. His ability to improvise, do impressions, and be all out crazy was absolutely what Genie needed in 'Aladdin.' Even though he's completely over the top 'Aladdin' is still fondly remembered as one of the better latter-day Disney animated features. This is mostly due to the memorable performance by Williams and the infinitely quotable lines he churns out during the movie. I remember, as a kid, quoting Genie as much as humanly possible.
"Jafar, Jafar, he's our man, if he can't do it GREAT!"
Williams makes 'Aladdin' all that much more enjoyable. He brings Genie to life and creates one of Disney's most memorable characters in the process. He shows restraint when it's needed, and never becomes overly obnoxious – which could've easily happened. 'Aladdin' also happens to be one of my most anticipated Disney releases not yet on Blu-ray. Come on Disney, let's make this happen.
'Dead Poets Society'
This is the rare Williams movie where he's allowed to be both serious and comical, usually in the same scene. There are so many classic moments in this 1989 gem that it's hard to count them all. We saw the extent of what Williams could do with a meatier role. A role where he wasn't just asked to be an on screen version of his stand up persona.
This one became and instant classic and is still beloved by critics and audiences alike. It's true that Matt Damon and Ben Affleck received most of the praise for this movie, and rode its popularity to ultra-stardom. But, it was Williams' role as Sean McGuire that seems like the mortar that holds the movie together. He gives it a spirit and energy that makes the movie a memorable cinematic experience.
Can Williams play creepy? You bet he can! With Christopher Nolan at the helm, 'Insomnia' turned from a formulaic cop drama into a truly unsettling movie experience. This was helped along by Williams' performance as Walter Finch, a strange crime novelist who ends up playing a cat-and-mouse game with Al Pacino. In every scene where Pacino starts chewing up the scenery, Williams counteracts with a subtle performance that harnesses a terrifying undercurrent of hostility that works perfectly for this role.
'One Hour Photo'
Truthfully, I thought was going to stink. It reeked of a "hey look this funny guy is in it and he's being scary" kind of vibe. It wasn't like 'Insomnia' where you were pleasantly surprised that Williams was playing an anti version of himself. The previews for 'One Hour Photo' slapped you in the face with the fact that Robin Williams was in this movie and he wasn't ever going to crack a joke.
To my surprise 'One Hour Photo', a chilling story about a lonely film developer who ends up stalking a woman that frequents his establishment, turned out to be a taut thriller with a stellar performance from Williams. I thought putting him in this was nothing more than a plot to pique our curiosity, but he came through with a horrifying and memorable performance.
There was absolutely no reason that the 'Absent Minded Professor' should have been remade, but when has that ever stopped the Hollywood remake factory from churning out dreadful tripe we've already had to endure the first time?
This time they said, "Hey, we have this thing called CG now. Wouldn't it be a perfect time to redo that movie about flubber, but this time we can animate the flubber to actually act like tiny gelatinous goo people?" Right then another unfunny kids movie was made where kids could mindlessly laugh at the stuff that looked like "shiny boogers" (their words, not mine).
No I'm not kidding you. Seriously, I'm not. Why won't you believe me when I say that 'Jack' was directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Stop laughing at me! I'm telling the truth. I can't believe it either, but it happened and we have to move past it.
Who better to play a gigantic kid than Robin Williams, right? Maybe in a better movie it would have worked. This is just a bizarre movie all around. An awful movie full of flat jokes, and cloying emotional scenes. How could the teaming of Coppola and Williams turn out so terribly? This is something that I'll never understand.
I don't get movies like 'Old Dogs'. Who are these movies for? They aren't for kids. They just can't be. You can't stick in two over-the-hill actors – Travolta and Williams – and expect kids to swoon. On the flip side 'Old Dogs' most certainly isn't for adults. Well, it's not for adults who want to keep their brain cells intact. It's just so asinine, so lowest-common-denominator stupid that I have a hard time figuring out who its audience really is. In one of the most cringe-worthy "comedic" scenes I've ever had to sit through, John Travolta is struck with partial facial paralysis, while Williams pretends to have lost all depth perception. Hardy, har, har. 'Old Dogs' is awful.
'Patch Adams' wouldn't be so bad if it didn't want you to cry so much. It's sole purpose is to tug at your heartstrings with carefully placed, melodramatic music as we realize that laughter really can cure all. It's all just so obvious. A melodramatic sledgehammer repeatedly bashing you over the head with its phony feeling emotion. 'Patch Adams' could've done with a lesson in less is more. As it stands it's a movie that had potential, but it was squandered by over-sweet performances from everyone involved. Upon meeting him, the first thing the real Patch Adams told Roger Ebert was "I hate that movie." What more do you need to know?
Like 'Old Dogs', 'R.V.' is another one of those ambiguous movies that I have no idea who its target audience is. Do kids really want to watch a wacky father drive his poor family around in an R.V.? Do parents really want to subject themselves to this frontal lobe lobotomy of a movie? The only thing remotely clever about this movie is that R.V. not only refers to the vehicle they use to travel cross country, but also to the movie's subtitle 'Runaway Vacation'. As a matter of fact, it's a runaway movie, script, and just about everything else. 'R.V.' is painful at just about every turn.
I like Williams, usually. He's had quite a few misses in his career, but he's shown that he can reinvent himself if necessary. He plays a great creep. His dramatic roles are by far his best parts.
Williams has had a widely varied career. It was hard for me to pick a top five just because Williams has had so many great movies. Honorable mentions that I'd feel amiss if I didn't mention include 'Good Morning, Vietnam.' 'Awakenings,' 'The Fisher King,' and 'FernGully.' He's also had a whole slew of crapfests that I don't even want to take the time to list, although 'House of D' could have easily made the worst of list.
How would you rank Williams' movie career? Do you have a top five or bottom five that you'd like to share? Head on over to the forums and let us know.