Role: Badass motherfucker
The Movies: Pulp Fiction, Die Hard: With a Vengeance, A Time to Kill, The Long Kiss Goodnight, Jackie Brown, The Negotiator, Star Wars I, II and III, Deep Blue Sea, Unbreakable, xXx and xXx II: State of the Union, S.W.A.T., Snakes on a Plane
The History: Samuel L. Jackson will fuck you up, motherfucker, and that' about all you need to know about him. He is the quintessential threatening black man, screaming obscenities roughly 47 percent of the time he is onscreen (the other 53 percent is divided roughly between kicking ass and scoffing at whatever white guy is suggesting that he bother taking names). Even in Unbreakable, where Jackson portrays a "glass man" with a degenerative bone disease" Spoiler! Turns out, he was behind every murder in the movie. Whether you're an international terrorist, a rival mobster, a Sith Lord, a bunch of snakes on a plane or a super-intelligent shark, Sam Jackson will be more than happy to scream at you and then shoot you in the face.
The Verdict: Samuel L. Jackson' role is so much a part of him that whenever he tries to break away from it-as when he played a troubled but heroic vagrant in The Caveman' Valentine or an erudite hotel owner in 1408-it just comes off as forced, like your abusive uncle trying to keep it together for Thanksgiving dinner. He even plays the role of intimidating badass when presenting at awards shows. Sad as the thought may be, Sam is pretty much stuck being a badass motherfucker. On the plus side, there' a lot pansier things you could be stuck as (see "Kelsey Grammar").
Role: Girl who' too hot for the geeky lead and is thus humiliated/disfigured in some fashion to cut her down to size
The Movies: The Mask, My Best Friend' Wedding, There' Something About Mary, Very Bad Things, Being John Malkovich, Shrek I, II and III
The History: Cameron Diaz is pretty enough that most men would be attracted to her even if she were nuts, and she' taken rampant advantage of that fact. Whether she' a flaming bitch, an ogre or is inexplicably attracted to Jim Carrey, it does little to deaden her sex appeal. The combination makes her perfect for the romantic lead in movies starring comedians who wouldn't get a girl as hot as her in a million years unless she had some sort of serious emotional defect. She' seduced everyone from Carrey to Mike Myers to Ben Stiller, all by doing little more than being willing to stand next to them. To make the match believable, she'll lower her worth by playing a level of instability anywhere from quirky to psycho, depending on how direly unattractive the male lead is. Oh, it' just a shy, awkward Ben Stiller? Just put some cum in her hair. Wait, it' a pony-tailed, puppeteering John Cusack? Better make her obsessed with pets and a closeted transsexual.
The Verdict: Not many would willingly embrace the image of a "damaged goods" hottie, but despite a brief break from the crazy for the Charlie' Angels movies, Diaz has basically been varying the same tune for over a decade now. Judging by the fact that we're still rabidly attracted to her, it seems like she' doing just fine.
Role: Career hipster misfit with strange job who is unlucky in love and caught in the rain
The Movies: Better Off Dead", Say Anything", Grosse Pointe Blank, Pushing Tin, Being John Malkovich, High Fidelity, Runaway Jury, Must Love Dogs, 1408
The History: From Lloyd Dobler' vow to never "sell anything bought, sold or processed" going forward, Cusack' career can be seen as one long struggle with quirky employment. A list of some of the occupations Cusack' film characters have had: a charming assassin, an air traffic controller, a puppeteer, a record store owner, a preschool teacher, a writer who investigates haunted places and a ship designer (we're pretty sure they're just putting verbs and nouns together at this point). Even in those earlier, ellipsed films like Better Off Dead" and Say Anything", Cusack had already donned the persona of the quiet kid who' too cool to come to your party anyway. Cusack' quirkiness makes him "hip," even when he plays an intolerable loser, as he does in Malkovich. He' even saved up enough indie cred to keep his fans happy while jumping ship for more lucrative mainstream movies like Identity and 1408. Although the way his career is going now, he'll be lucky if he doesn't get re-typecast as "guy trapped in a supernatural nightmare that turns out to possibly be a dream but then just completely falls apart."
The Verdict: Cusack has managed to spend a career playing misfits and losers without seeming too pathetic. In fact, his constant underdog status seems to garner sympathy and good will more than anything else. Now if he can just parlay that sympathy into some roles where he doesn't have to talk directly to the camera, he'll be set for life.
Role: Non-threatening black police officer with an attitude. Oh HELL naw!
The Movies: Bad Boys I and II, Enemy of the State, Independence Day, Wild Wild West, Men in Black I and II, I, Robot
The History: In Bad Boys, Will Smith enters a house while calling out, "Don't be alarmed, we're black people!" And white America was shocked to find that they actually weren't alarmed. If you need a black actor to pull in the "urban youth" demographic for your blockbuster action movie, but don't want the R-rating and scared white people that hiring Samuel L. Jackson will render inevitable, you can't do much better then Will Smith. With all the slick, '90s-style attitude that a board of out-of-touch movie producers can scrounge up, Smith, or the Tiger Woods of action stars (as known by his white fans), can one-liner and dazzling-grin his way through any tough situation, without scuffing his prominently displayed Converse sneakers. Whether he' playing a police officer, a Wild West police officer, an alien-fighting police officer or a robot-fighting police officer, you can count on Smith to look cool without making white people worry that he'll date their daughters.
The Verdict: Smith has made some smart career choices lately, breaking away from his Fresh Prince persona with movies like Ali and The Pursuit of Happyness. The new trend isn't all good news though, since he played an ultra-romanticized hero who triumphed against all odds in both of those films. And, with an upcoming movie called I am Legend, we have to wonder whether Smith might be shifting into a Tom Cruise-grade phase of narcissistic delusion.
Role: William Shatner
The Movies/Shows/Commercials/Anything They'll Pay Him For: The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, Star Trek (The Series), Tekwar, Seaquest DSV, Star Trek I-VII, The First Men in the Moon, Miss Congeniality I and II, Priceline Commercials, Children' Birthday Parties
The History: We hope Shatner is basically playing himself, because otherwise we'd have to imagine a normal person trapped in the never-ending Hell of being forced to play a chubby, halting overdramatic joke in every science fiction setting this side of Galactic Central Point. Never has one man captained so many exploratory vessels, shot at so many rubber-looking aliens, or spawned so many classic YouTube videos. Anyone who watches Shatner' infamous spoken-word rendition of "Rocket Man" can be sure he' either retarded or retarded like a fox. Considering that he' a multimillionaire, it may be the latter, although you have to question whether any amount of wealth is worth having to listen to every nerd at every comics convention try and do their impression of you.
The Verdict: Shatner' gone downhill in the last few years, mostly getting parts where he plays a caricature of himself (Boston Legal). That, or choice roles like Lunar, King of the Moon (The First Men in the Moon) or a cameo in the upcoming Horrorween 3D. Expect to see Shatner on Celebrity Fit Club any time now.
Michael writes the incredibly important humor blog, The Specious.