Amazing Performances Hiding in Terrible Movies
I like to think of myself as a psychoanalytical cinema analyst, because "I drink kratom and watch Netflix in my underwear all day" looks shitty on a resume. For the most part, it's a thankless job, and I've wasted so much of my life at this point that achieving true love or happiness is the most hopeless endeavor since the last time someone tried to discover what really makes Toaster Strudels so delicious.
But occasionally I'll discover something totally secret and totally great. I've talked before about how some terrible movies have amazing hidden meanings in them that will completely change the way you never, ever rewatch them, but now I'm talking about something more specific: a great performance, by a great actor, hiding in sea of cinematic travesty. These are actors who showed up on an ugly set, read a script written in poop by a deranged monkey, and decided to do a hell of a job anyway.
They never got the recognition they deserved. So today, we salute you, you brave, brave soldiers of cinematic quality.
Kate Beckinsale in Total Recall
The Cinematic War Crime Against Sci-Fi
Let me tell you a story. Once upon a time in the late '80s, a man named Paul Verhoeven had a dream: he wanted to tell an adventure story about a wacky foreigner named Quaid with a broken brain and a robot mask who battles a government conspiracy and saves Mars. The result was the movie Total Recall, and it is mankind's finest achievement aside from Xanax.
This happens too. It's a really good movie.
Meanwhile, back in reality: 22 years later, some guy who's name I didn't bother to look up decided to remake that movie, but he cut out literally every element (there's no fucking Mars) except the broken brain. They almost kept the "wacky foreigner" detail by casting Irishman Colin Farrell, but unfortunately they made him do an American accent. In case you don't know this about Farrell, the energy required for him to fake an American accent uses up all his acting points, leaving nothing left.
Did I mention there's no Mars in this movie? Fuck that, you guys.
The Glorious Majesty Buried Within
Kate Beckinsale plays Quaid's "wife," who turns out to be an assassin -- and she fucking crushes it. The only thing that works in this whole movie is the action sequences. And the only reason the action sequences work is because I'm pretty sure Beckinsale was actually trying to kill people.
Part of why she's so cool is, aside from the very last scene, she doesn't make any stupid-movie-character mistakes: for example, when the good guys are shooting at her, she takes cover behind her army of robots.
Also, she uses her army of robots.
Because this is a movie about fake memories and deception, quite a few characters have alternate identities. Beckinsale changes her attitude and demeanor so much that it's almost like seeing two different actors:
For Farrell all they could think to do was give him a goatee, since he either only knows one facial expression or someone off camera is violently electrocuting him every time he lowers his eyebrows.
Beckinsale carries so much menace in each fight scene that she single-handedly does the job that the writers failed at: she's so cool she'll make you care what happens next. The problem here is that her best scenes aren't available on YouTube, and they don't really hold up when I type them out. Like this one:
BECKINSALE punches SOME GUY in the NECK
BECKINSALE: When you get your breath back, you're going to tell me everything that man said to you, starting from the beginning.
SOME GUY: Who are you?
BECKINSALE: I'm his wife.
Idiotic, right? But it's so goddamn cool the way she does it, and I'm not even sure why, because I'm not very smart or even qualified to have this job writing jokes for you fine people. My point is that Beckinsale injects cocky menace into a boring, cookie-cutter character, and it's allllllllllllmost but not quite worth watching the movie for.
Karl Urban in Priest
The Cinematic Atrocity Against World-Building
Let me tell you another story. In 2014, I spent a solid hour with my head in my hands, staring blankly at the keyboard, trying to think of how I could describe this fucking movie to you. I rewatched Priest last night, and I honestly haven't felt quite right in my heart since.
The basic premise is that vampires are fucking everywhere, and only ninja-priests can save them, and also it's the Old West for some reason but only sometimes, because people also have rocket-powered motorcycles. It's The Searchers with ancient warriors of god and rocket-bikes in the desert. There's a character named Hicks. Now you see the problem, right? Every detail in this movie, taken on its own, is awesome, and yet the movie itself is bad.
But one thing stands out as extra awesome, which is ...
The Glorious Redemption
... Karl Urban, the vampire cowboy.
And yet, this movie is bad.
This is where I admit that I have a little bit of a man-crush on Urban. But in my defense, fucking look at the guy. It's like raditude and badical had a baby.
Some say that his Dredd frown looks funny without the Dredd helmet. They are correct.
When an actor is given a role like "evil vampire cowboy," the only thing he's legally allowed to do is have all the fun he possibly can. And that's exactly what The Urbs does. He spends his entire 17-or-so minutes of screen-time going more whole-hog than a drunk frat boy at an all-you-can-bro-grab competition.
He's conducting music in his head while buildings explode behind him. And yet this movie is bad.
Again, there's not a ton of depth or complexity to this role. He's a vampire and he's mad at people who aren't vampires, which tends to be a thing vampires get up to. But man, does it work. The best part is when he punches into a kung-fu priest's chest and rips his heart out, right in the middle of a fight.
I don't even think that was in the script, I think he just got caught up in the role and went a little overboard. But it's fine; that guy died for a good cause, because the explosion of coolness gives us the strength to sit through another 45 minutes of J.A.R.V.I.S. and The Bad Guy From Twilight whining at each other over ... who cares? You don't. I don't. Next entry.
Ben Foster in 30 Days of Night
The Slow Bleed Against Horror
30 Days of Night is a dumb movie about Josh Hartnett battling a bunch of vampires whose defining trait seems to be a stubborn refusal to ever wipe blood off their faces. The movie takes place over 30 days -- that's 720 hours -- and at no point does even one of the bad guys take a minute to wipe their chin on their sleeve. It drives me fucking crazy.
Have you guys just not figured out napkins, or ...
In this movie, vampires go to Barrow, Alaska, in the dead of winter to hunt people with impunity. They do this because in the middle of winter the sun sets for roughly an entire month. It's 30 days, you see. Of night.
The good guys, led by sheriff Josh Hartnett, hole up in an attic and are killed off in increasingly stupid ways until, finally, Josh Hartnett.
I dunno. It's all right, I guess.
The Warm, Beating Heart of Genius
But buried in the barely tolerable nonsense is a performance by Ben Foster that is just captivating. He plays the vampire pack's pet human who sneaks into town, destroys all their cellphones, murders all their dogs, and then wanders into a diner to order a bowl of raw ground beef and just freaks the hell out of everyone.
Mainly with his bad teeth.
Between his gross teeth, totally unexplained backstory, and weirdly accented, high-pitched voice, I'm pretty sure he's creepier than any of the vampires -- who, and I don't feel this can be stressed enough, are just sloppy as hell.
Is that not getting itchy? You're gonna get the worst acne.
The best part is when the vampires finally arrive at the prison where Foster is being held -- and where he's been expecting a rescue -- only to leave him locked up. The poor guy thinks that the vampires are going to "take him" (turn him into a vampire? Again, it's not super clear), and his disappointment when this doesn't happen is the only emotional reaction any villain has that makes any sense.
Cockroaches, the most loathsome creature on the planet, meticulously clean themselves after eating.
Just ... do whatever you want with that information.
Michael Keaton in RoboCop
The Cinematic Hate Crime Against Satire
Let me tell you another story, and this is the last one, I promise.
"Hey, ya know RoboCop, one of the best satires ever made?" asked the well-dressed man in the Columbia Pictures office. "What if we remake it, only we cut out the blood and wit and heart and meaning and intelligence, then replace all that with a bunch of references to the original that don't make any sense in the new context we've created?"
Before him, four studio executives sat in stunned silence, their faces frozen in the blank, soulless expression that afflicts all who choose their path in life. Then, slowly and with great majesty, they began to vibrate. The intensity increased, and just as they were beginning to blur, hundreds of thousands of slimy, bloody dollar bills exploded from every one of their orifices in a horrifying display of sexual capitalism so great that, well ... in Hollywood, they say, the cops beat the homeless just a little harder that day.
What, you need a plot summary? RoboCop is about a robocop. Get it together, man.
The Glimmering Spark of Redemption
Putting Michael Keaton in front of a camera and letting him do stuff was the best decision the RoboCop remake made. He takes what is essentially Miguel Ferrer's role from the original (though not directly, and I'm sure the commenters will explain why this description is horribly wrong) -- and though he's not as awesomely hateable as that guy, he's still a hell of a modern douchebag CEO -- and manages to inject some clever satire into what is otherwise a completely pointless and stupid movie. For example, watch this bit, where he jumps around like a coked-up lunatic:
And that's not even his best scene. In the "designing RoboCop" part, his R&D people present him with a bunch of data based on research and focus testing, he considers it, and then decides, "Eh, fuck it, let's just go with my gut and make RoboCop all black." Not only is that a brilliant satire of how corporations and every CEO thinks, it inadvertently mocks itself because making RoboCop all black is actually a stupid decision the filmmakers made too. See? It works on multiple levels.
It may not be up to the standards of the original, or even, ya know, intentional, but some satire manages to sneak its way into the RoboCop remake. Is it as beautiful as shooting a mugger in the dick? No. But it's something ...
Ashton Kutcher in Jobs
The ... Fuckin' ... Movie
Jobs sucks. I hate it so goddamn much. To call it a two-hour ad for Apple products is an insult to the relatively subtle art of product placement:
This movie opens with Ashton Kutcher introducing the iPod to the company, and ends with him crying -- fucking crying -- as he reads the voiceover to the I-guess-kinda-iconic ad with the inspirational voiceover. You know the one I'm talking about: "Here's to the crazy ones," and so on.
The ad where they compare their computers to the civil rights movement.
The Part Where I Tell You What I Like About the Movie
As the movie collapses around him into a pile of butts, Kutcher stands triumphantly among the shapely wreckage, like a kingly paragon of derrieres. He looks like Steve Jobs, sounds like him, even walks like him. That's not just raw talent or charisma -- he clearly put a ton of time, effort, and thought into getting this character perfect.
There's not a lot else to say here, because he still comes nowhere close to saving the movie. The crappy script and nonsensical editing turns his performance into a competent novelty, like a dog who knows how to do a backflip or a cat with a perfect impression of Winston Churchill. But maybe it's enough to forgive him for keeping Two and a Half Men alive.
For more from Sarge, check out 4 Ways We Can Save the Marvel Cinematic Universe and 5 Movie Tie-In Ads With Subversive Anti-Capitalism Messages.
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