Some actors just have it. That indefinable ability to polish a grade-A turd of a movie, simply by appearing in it. Performers like Alison Janney, Philip Seymour Hoffman or JK Simmons, who can take a supporting role in an underwhelming film and somehow elevate the material to something worth watching.
Unfortunately, for every yin there’s a yang. Which means there’s a second group of performers, whose very presence can derail an otherwise promising film. Kind-hearted critics, if that’s not a contradiction in terms, might charitably chalk these appearances up to a bad case of miscasting. Nonetheless, these performers must accept some culpability for their woeful crimes against entertainment. I’m sure there are a million and one examples out there. But in order to get the ball rolling, let’s name and shame some of Hollywood’s serial offenders, and draw a chalk line around the scene of their most egregious crimes.
When Four Weddings and a Funeral came out, it initiated something of a renaissance in British filmmaking. After decades of overwrought kitchen-sink dramas, finally here was proof that we were just as capable of producing a crowd-pleasing, romantic soufflé of a movie as our stateside equivalents. But even though the film boasted a break-out role for neophyte A-lister Hugh Grant, the studio still felt the need for an ‘American name’ to help the film play well overseas. Somehow, the powers-that-be decided that Andie MacDowell was up to the task, despite the fact that she was more wooden than a picnic bench, and just as uncomfortable. After an ignominious start to her acting career, which saw her redubbed by Glenn Close in Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, she’d somehow notched up several successful roles, most of which used her staggering stiffness to their advantage. Not that any of this helped the makers of Four Weddings - a good romantic comedy demands a sparkling rapport between its star-crossed leads, and yet Hugh and Andie couldn’t achieve chemistry with a SodaStream full of nitroglycerin.
Thousands of paragraphs have already been dedicated to the scene at the end of the film, when Grant finds his declaration of love interrupted by a sudden downpour, only for a dripping wet MacDowell to remark, “Is it still raining? I hadn’t noticed.” Much of the criticism was leveled at Richard Curtis, for writing such a shamelessly sentimental line. And although he’s wracked up his own fair share of cinematic misfires, this isn’t one of them. The fault lies entirely with MacDowell, whose delivery borders on narcoleptic, delivering her big line with all the emotion of someone trying to assemble an IKEA wardrobe by reading out the instructions over the phone.
I’m not a big fan of Baz Luhrmann’s OTT technique at the best of times. His films tend to be too loud (visually as well as sonically), valuing cacophony over clarity, noise over nuance. Often, this means that his talented cast can get lost in the mix, unless of course they’re willing to crank it up to eleven. That’s the option that John Leguizamo seemed to pick for his portrayal of Toulouse-Lautrec in Moulin Rouge. The film itself was like being stuck in the lift of a psychiatric facility with cluster of bi-polar attention seekers, and yet Leguizamo still managed to distinguish himself as possibly the most annoying character ever committed to celluloid. To portray the diminutive artist, Leguizamo spent most of the film shuffling around with his knees in a pair of slippers; the least convincing little person since Ray Alan introduced us to Lord Charles.
For two, painful hours, Leguizamo shrieks his lines in a French accent that would shame the cast of 'Allo 'Allo, with Luhrmann no doubt cheering on every irritating idiosyncracy. Don’t be surprised if this tin ear for characterisation sees Luhrmann recast Joe Pasquale in the role of Tom Buchanan in his forthcoming adaptation of The Great Gatsby. As for Leguizamo, Toulouse-Lautrec is just one in a series of shockingly frustrating roles that the actor has essayed, from the obese blue clown in Spawn, to Sid the Sloth in Ice Age. It's less a career, more a one-man rogue’s gallery of awfulness; particularly when you consider that he once turned down Philadelphia in favour of Super Mario Brothers.
Moulin Rouge was like being stuck in the lift of a psychiatric facility with cluster of bi-polar attention seekers
There was a time when I used to love any film with a sudden, shocking twist. One of those moments that takes you completely by surprise, and forces you to reevaluate everything you’ve seen up until that point. But that all changed the moment I experienced Chris Tucker’s incomprehensibly horrible appearance, midway through The Fifth Element. Unlike the vampires which cleverly heralded an impromptu genre switcheroo in From Dusk Till Dawn, Tucker's unexpected arrival stopped Besson’s film dead in its tracks so promptly that you could hear the brakes screeching. Although, in retrospect, that may have been Tucker's dialogue. This sudden, brutal redirection didn't just drag me out of the moment; it left me scrabbling around for something sharp that I could stab deep into my ear canal.
Flouncing onto the screen, like the bastard fusion of Sisqo, Bet Gilroy, Hollywood Montrose and Alvin the Chipmunk, Tucker took an otherwise visionary piece of sci-fi fantasy and sodomised it with a golden microphone, until it passed out in a bloodied puddle of spit and glitter. Had he popped up in a different intergalactic space epic, I’d have kept the acid-blooded xenomorph and kicked this preening prick out of the airlock.
Look up the word ‘fey’ in a dictionary, and you’ll probably find a picture of Legolas the Elf calling Julian Sands a floaty, ethereal twat. It doesn’t seem to matter whether he’s playing a Victorian nob, a medieval warlock or a scheming international terrorist, he has all the presence and gravitas of an HR manager’s limp handshake. The moment he pops up in a film, all disbelief is promptly unsuspended. Hang on, he's posh but he's from Yorkshire. And is he supposed to be gay or not? None of it makes any sense, not least the decision to cast him in the first place.
Don’t believe me? Give Arachnophobia a spin, and marvel at how he manages to mangle every single line. It's almost as if he’s learning his dialogue phonetically, using the Apple Mac speech function. Common sense would suggest that, when you’re effortlessly out-acted by an animatronic spider, it’s time to look for a new career - ideally cutting the crusts off cucumber sandwiches in a village tearoom.
According to Hollywood legend, Nic assumed his screen-name in order to avoid accusations of nepotism, since Nicolas Coppola would leave no-one in any doubt as to which film-making dynasty he sprang from. And yet, aside from a couple of notable exceptions, you’d be forgiven for assuming it was the other Coppolas who’d insisted on the rebranding, for fear of guilt by association.
Most of his roles involve some random combination of erratic, agitated and mildly confused behaviour, like a Red Setter that doesn’t quite understand its own reflection in the surface of a pond. The problem is, this is usually coupled with a character who's supposed to be some kind of under-appreciated genius, like Stanley Goodspeed in The Rock, or Professor John Koestler in Knowing. With a top lip constantly set on ‘sneer’ and a collection of wigs that would embarrass Dolly Parton, Cage's acting approach seems to operate on the same principle I applied whenever my parents insisted that I mow the lawn – do something badly enough and you won’t be expected to do it again.
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