List Inconsequential: Great Actor/Wrong Role

List Inconsequential: Great Actor/Wrong Role

Robert De Niro in Analyze This

“We all got our jobs to do,” said Robert De Niro, probably the finest living actor, accepting the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award at this month’s Golden Globes. True enough, Bob, and your paycheck you took home for Analyze This must have been enormous. De Niro’s talent is such a waste in the 1999 Harold Ramis-directed comedy, you wonder why the producers didn’t spend half the money on Mafioso go-tos Paul Sorvino or Danny Aiello.

In the movie, De Niro plays a stereotypical Italian mobster and in doing so, renders his legendary performances in much better films as caricature. Billy Crystal is opposite him as his analyst, press ganged into taking him as a patient (because he’s a thug, see). Oh, yeah, there’s Lisa Kudrow as Crystal’s improbable bride, too. The rote, paint-by-numbers fish out of water story finds its climax in the nebbishy Crystal smacking the living hell out of De Niro’s best lieutenant in front of mob heads; it’s an uncomfortable scene, played for laughs and it’s the one thing I can recall easily from the film – certainly not De Niro’s performance, which is relegated to a lot of De Niro Face and not much else. I can’t believe they made a sequel. – Chris Middleman

John Malkovich in Johnny English

John Malkovich is an esteemed chameleon of stage and screen, an actor so versatile that he can pull off fantastic performances in fare as wildly diverse as Of Mice and Men or Con Air. But one thing he can’t pull off? Being a megalomaniacal French prison entrepreneur/supervillain in the little loved Johnny English (2003). Aside from the fact that the Rowan Atkinson vehicle is just plain awful (seriously, do not let this blurb tempt you to see it. It’s that bad), Malkovich’s turn is just plain bizarre in the most unlikeable and off-putting sense. Affecting a Pepe LePew-like accent and at one point shoving his ass towards an audience and screaming for them to kiss his French accent, who knows what Malkovich was thinking. It’s this kind of movie that makes you want to just pop in Being John Malkovich and let your cares wash away. And you should. – Nathan Kamal


Marlon Brando in Candy

Really, any actor in Candy could be here. Richard Burton as a teen idol drunken poet with a wind machine permanently fixated on him? Coulda been. Walter Matthau as a pathetic military general who goads a high school girl into having sex with him? Check. Ringo Starr’s turn as a MEXICAN GARDENER is memorable, but he’s by no stretch of the imagination a great actor. No, the distinction of the worst performance by someone who definitely should have known better goes to dear Marlon, who plays a phony Indian guru whose temple is housed in the back of a traveling semi truck. Complete with fright wig, bindi, toga and lilting accent, Brando waxes fool-isophical about time and space and communicating with vegetables. For real. However, it’s pretty great to think of a notorious Method actor like Brando getting into character. Wonder if he helped others on set find “The Center of All Breath” like he does in the flick? Hey, it was the ’60s. – Ashley Thiry

Cate Blanchett in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Cate Blanchett reminds me a lot of Helen Mirren, and not just because they both played Queens. Like Mirren, Blanchett has a subtle grace and poise about her with a constant dedication to her art that will undoubtedly leave her with a lengthy, prosperous career; just check out her turn as pseudo-Bob Dylan in I’m Not There for proof. Still, like the others on this list, she had to stink it up at least once.

In a totally whacked and over-the-top performance, Blanchett plays Irina Spalko, the Soviet enemy of Harrison Ford’s pension-collecting Indiana Jones. I’ll concede that Blanchett is somewhat hindered here by the plot, what with all the monkey-swinging action and UFO tie-ins. Still, this is a performance beyond ludicrous. Not only does she seem totally disinterested throughout the film, her horrific accent rivals that of Nicolas Cage in Con Air. For a woman with such grace and ability, Blanchett’s turn as Spalko is one generic, ridiculous and cringe-worthy performance. – Kyle Fowle

Paul Newman in Quintet

Paul Newman’s best roles have always involved some measure of charm, whether the effusive dodginess of Henry Gondorff in The Sting or the bitter wit of the title character in Hud. None of this is present in Quintet a dreary sci-fi set in a cold dystopian wasteland, where Newman’s performance is tamped down to match the icy setting. Operating one notch above suspended animation, included in a cast of similarly low-key performances, his work here cements the film’s mediocrity, missing an opportunity to enliven some dry material. – Jesse Cataldo


Julianne Moore in Magnolia

Julianne Moore has made a lot of wacky choices in her career. I like her, I think she’s great but thinking about it a little more, I can say that I finally get why people would not like her – she attacks her roles with a doggedness that is essentially disarming. You don’t sense doubt in her characterizations, even when perhaps there should be some, like in her heinous Boston accent on “30 Rock” this last season. Her role as Linda Partridge in Magnolia occupies some weird in-between space. I can’t say I hate the performance, I can only say that I’m mystified by it. That the sheer intensity of hysteria that she brings to the role manages to make it seem as if Tom Cruise has delivered a grounded performance. The single best moment in Magnolia is when she angrily tells a pharmacist to “Suck. My-DICK” in such a bizarre and forceful way that it can not be accurately rendered in type. The scenery must have tasted absolutely delicious in this movie, Jah bless you Julianne Moore. Just watch it, jesus, it’s amazing. – Andrei Alupului

Christian Bale in Terminator: Salvation

For over a decade now, I’ve been a pretty big Christian Bale fan. I remember being in ninth grade and watching him back to back as the charismatic killer Patrick Bateman in American Psycho and the yuppie racist antagonist in John Singleton’s otherwise abysmal Shaft remake. Having just seen The Fighter, I’m completely comfortable calling him one of our generation’s absolute greatest actors. Of course, when I say this out loud, people bring up Terminator: Salvation.

There’s plenty wrong with this motion picture, most of which is Gap spokesperson Common proving he is far-and-away the single worst rapper-turned-actor ever-cast, a statement I make having seen everything that’s ever come out of Master P.’s No Limit Films. But Bale isn’t necessarily miscast or phoning it in, rather he made an acting choice that was just really bad. I’ve heard the argument that John Connor probably grew up with everyone telling him how important he would be to the future so Bale’s choice of an always-yelling temperament is not only suitable, but how Connor would actually act. I’ve also heard the rumor that Bale was handed a script written entirely with the caps lock on. – Chaz Kangas


Michael Douglas in Falling Down

Often known for the excessive intensity he pumps into his characters, Michael Douglas, through no fault of his own, went overkill with Falling Down’s anti-hero, William Foster. The script left little room for Douglas to break down the one-dimensional barrier of rage and intolerance he’s forced to exhibit through every onscreen moment. If Foster wasn’t battling stereotypical L.A. hoodrats during the film’s sun-scorched afternoon, he was making creepy phone calls to his wife; but for a man undergoing a mental breakdown, his actions proved more rational than the half-baked reasons for his impending insanity. We never fully explored the stories and shoulda-been complexities behind Foster’s job loss, messy divorce and the restraining order preventing him from seeing his daughter. Instead, screenwriter Ebbe Roe Smith concentrated on what’s in front of Foster: a society of bad guys who played out as more important obstacles to Foster’s one goal – a visit to his daughter on her birthday – than the psychological obstacles he should’ve really been grappling with. Foster’s character development remained incomplete by the film’s end, and his extraordinary reactions to L.A.’s cliché stimuli were contrived at best. – Jory Spadea

John Wayne in The Conqueror

You got me: John Wayne isn’t a very good actor to begin with. He’s more of a persona that’s suited to most of the movies he finds himself in. And there’s nothing wrong with being just a good fit for a role as opposed to an acting powerhouse. For example, watch True Grit, where an old, fat, burned-out John Wayne plays an old, fat, burned-out cowboy with an eye patch. That’s perfect casting. The Conqueror is not one of those roles. You can tell because he is ostensibly supposed to be playing Genghis Khan, who is neither a white person nor a John Wayne type.

The result is an expensive, Howard Hughes-produced historical epic marred by what can only be described as “some Charlie Chan shit.” John Wayne does his best drunken John Wayne impression while wearing an Asian Man Disguise Kit, complete with Fu Manchu mustache and Mr. Spock eyebrows. And what’s worse is that the film has an aura of tragedy surrounding it – on-location filming downwind from a nuclear test site purportedly caused a good portion of the crew to develop cancer. So I feel bad even making fun of this movie. Fuck The Conqueror. For a lot of reasons. – Danny Djeljosevic

Hugo Weaving in Transformers

Think of the most iconic, well-loved science fiction and fantasy movies of the last decade. What’s the common thread? They nearly all had Hugo Weaving. Agent Smith in The Matrix trilogy, Elrond in Lord of the Rings, hell, even the title character in V for Vendetta, Hugo Weaving was in ’em all. So why does Hugo Weaving deserve the wrath of nerds everywhere? One word: Megatron.

Granted, it’s not his fault. Or at least partly not. When casting the live-action Transformers (and its sequels), Michael Bay had the good sense to cast original voice actor Peter Cullen as the Optimus Prime, yet when it came time to cast the equally iconic robo-villain Megatron, he went with Weaving, rather than Frank Welker. There’s nothing ostensibly wrong with Weaving’s portrayal, though it’s such a guttural grunt that it’s often hard to make out what the hell he’s saying over all the other on-screen detritus. With the sequel (and this summer’s final entry) Bay went ahead and brought in Welker – as the voice of Soundwave. So, for those that elect to see the final film – a diminishing number of viewers, surely – we’ll be subjected once again to Hugo Weaving’s best attempt to out-do Frank Welker at his own game, while Welker sits idly by waiting to Michael Bay to throw him a bone as Soundwave. Those of us who waited 20 years for a live action Transformers movie deserved better. – Aaron Passman

Jeff Bridges in Masked and Anonymous

“When I made the Bob Dylan movie, I wanted to make a Bob Dylan movie that was like a Bob Dylan song,” explained Masked and Anonymous director Larry Charles. Unfortunately, it must have been one of Dylan’s shittier tracks – something from Knocked Out Loaded, maybe – that Charles had in mind for this rambling, stumbling, bumble-fucked, surrealistic train wreck of a film. Of course, a de-linear, scrambled mess of a storyline is to be expected from any film with the Dylan imprint on it, and that’s fine and even charming in its weird, guarded way. But it’s the waste of an all-star ensemble cast, especially Jeff Bridges, that makes me think an idiot wind must have been blowing mighty strong during this movie’s making.

In the role of the cynical, revolution-weary journalist Tom Friend, Bridges delivers an endless stream of hammed-up one-liners and philosophical ponderings with the gusto of a master thespian, but his character is so underdeveloped he may as well be trying to spit-shine a turd. “Everybody’s doing the killing now,” Friend grumbles, sounding like a cartoon philosopher. “Everybody’s doing the dying.” Wishful thinking, Dude. The truth is, they’re just rolling their eyes and pining for Seabiscuit. – Marcus David


Amy Adams in Julie & Julia

I think part of the reason that I’m so fond of the performance Amy Adams delivers in The Fighter is that its grit and tenacity stand as a complete repudiation of the strained, empty, needy twinkle she relied upon just one year earlier in Nora Ephron’s Julie & Julia. Her breakthrough turn in Junebug started building buzz at the Sundance Film Festival just a few years earlier, but Adams already started to look like a talented actress slipping into a bad, bad rut, reliant on increasingly tepid doe-eyed charm offensives. It didn’t help that Ephron seemed indifferent–and sometimes even openly hostile–to the blogging character that claimed half the film, but Adams conveyed each emotion with single-minded lack of variance or nuance and seemingly expected that to be enough, like a kid playing a sole note on a piano and stepping back for parental adulation. I spent the whole film thinking, “She’s better than this.” I’m grateful it didn’t take her long to prove that belief correct. – Dan Seeger

Sean Penn in I Am Sam

Sean Penn may be the Greatest Actor of Our Generation®, but like every actor there are a few dogs in his repertoire. However, you don’t have to dig deep to find his lousiest role. In fact, the Academy even nominated him for Best Actor for it.

I must admit, watching healthy actors play people with developmental disorders is something I can’t stomach. Sure, Daniel Day-Lewis is great in My Left Foot and Dustin Hoffman does the autism thing well in Rain Man, but watching Sean Penn play Sam Dawson in I Am Sam made me cringe. All I could think was, “Here is Sean Penn acting like there is something wrong with him.” I just didn’t buy it. Just like the film’s soundtrack of Beatles covers by the Wallflowers, Eddie Vedder and the Black Crowes, there is no replacing the real deal, no matter how authentic and lived-in the performance seems. – David Harris

Dennis Hopper as King Koopa/Bowser in Super Mario Bros.

Over a long and storied career, Dennis Hopper made a lot of questionable choices- descending into a world of drug addiction and abuse, following up Easy Rider with the film equivalent of that fall into debauchery (The Last Movie) and, of course, agreeing to appear in Super Mario Bros.

Anyone who’s played any Mario game knows that they have at best a paper thin but serviceable plot. Yet the geniuses behind Super Mario Bros. managed to make the film far more complicated than it has any right to be. Hopper plays the big baddie, King Koopa (a.k.a. Bowser), who is somehow a descendant of a T. Rex and has managed to turn our heroine Princess Daisy’s father into a sprawling fungus.

Hopper brings the role every ounce of flavor he can, turning Koopa into a freak among freaks, but there’s only so much you can do with a script as convoluted and strange as Super Mario Bros. Hopper himself publicly distanced himself from the film and when asked had but one small compliment for it: it had impressed his young child. Too bad everybody else was only impressed with its hideousness. – Nick Hanover

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