There are a lot of terrible actors in the world -- people paid to stand in front of a camera and pretend to be other people, all while you wonder if they've ever even met another person before. But hey, I'm a hopeless optimist. I believe that each and every one of us has one thing they are truly great at, and that as soon as I figure out what my thing is, my mom will stop telling her friends I died when they ask what I do for a living. (See? Optimism!) On that note, I believe that every terrible actor has a good role in them, as long as it's a very specific kind of role. Here are five actors that flounder around when emulating human emotion, until they manage to land in a certain distinct character mold.
Adam Sandler: Adult Characters With Adult Problems
Josh Gad is famous for voicing the snowman in Frozen and for constantly eliciting the response of "Shit. It's Josh Gad" whenever people watch his movies. But even with that average standard set, what in the hell was up with his character in Pixels? If you didn't see that movie (It's cool. Please don't), Josh Gad plays a character that wasted his life trying to wish a video game stripper into life. I may be an optimist, but I'm still baffled as to how that kind of inept character was vomited from a human brain in 2015. Why? If Josh Gad had stared into the camera while rubbing a boner through his pants leg for two hours, it would've made more sense than any part of this role.
But to answer my own question, Gad was obviously written into the film so that we'd focus all of our attention on him and not notice Adam Sandler's horrible acting.
"It's not working! Release the Dinklage!"
Why bother, though? Whenever Sandler plays a man-child (like his character in Pixels), he almost always does a piss-poor job with it. Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, Little Nicky, The Waterboy: some of those movies might be good, but Sandler's performance isn't. But Pixels was especially grating because Adam Sandler is now an old man, so it's more painful when he tries to act like a big kid. Twenty years ago, it was alright for Sandler to pull his "I don't want to grow up. I want to get drunk and cause funny havoc!" shtick. Now, at fifty, whenever he tries it, all you can say is "Yeah, that's cool, but where are the bodies?"
That's why he should stop doing that and only play actual adults from now on, and not just people that are adults in the sense that they have more pubic hair than the rest of the cast. And also because he's really good at it, like in Hotel Transylvania where he voices Count Dracula being overprotective of his daughter.
Which, sadly, ends up driving her to shop at Hot Topic.
There is real nuance to his performance there. While he is alone with his daughter, he's sweetness itself, especially when he's teaching her to turn into a bat and becomes so beautifully giddy after she succeeds. But there's always this under-layer of fear and dread in his voice because he doesn't want her going out into the human world where his wife was MURDERED. The scene where he talks about the night it happened is absolutely gut-wrenching. It's leaps and bounds above anything where his main character descriptor is "Shouts at Rob Schneider."
Maybe Adam Sandler has to suffer in order to give a good performance? That would explain why he was so good in Men, Women and Children.
Boy, that title and this screenshot do NOT go well together, huh?
In this 2014 movie, Sandler plays an unhappily married man who eventually has an affair. It's the saddest I've ever seen Sandler, especially when he jokes about how making love to his wife will be quick. His delivery sounds so defeated that you'll wonder if Sandler will ever take the medication necessary to keep him from sleep walking onto the sets of shit like Jack And Jill and Grown Ups again. The man really can do drama. Another case in point: this tear-jerking scene from Click where Sandler's character is making amends with his neglected family:
It was almost enough to save the movie, if it wasn't for the rest of the movie.
William Shatner: Parodies Of Himself
Sometimes, I relax by watching The Postman, a film where Kevin Costner literally inspires an entire apocalyptic world by wearing a mail carrier's outfit. I know that that sounds like Sunday school teacher describing the plot of Fallout 4, but that's the WHOLE movie. And I watch this while eating Twinkies and reading YouTube comments. What I'm getting at is that I have a habit of enjoying things that are objectively bad for your mind, body, and soul, and maybe that's why I love William Shatner.
Or as he'd put it: Maybe. That's. Why. I. LoveWilliamShatner.
Actually, I don't think that's the case because William Shatner CAN be a good actor, as long as he's making fun of himself.
Fanboys is a (bad) 2009 movie about a group of geeks trying to help their terminally-ill friend see The Phantom Menace early. Plot twist: They do NOT secretly hate him. I recommend the movie wholeheartedly thanks to Shatner's short cameo:
Shatner technically plays himself but here he is as this smooth, confident mystery man who says he can score anything, including Jeri Ryan's panties, and it's hilarious. Maybe it's because, on some level, Shatner really believes it?
Probably not. After all, when he played a hammy, overacting possum in Over The Hedge, you got the feeling that he was having a lot of fun with the role. Fun that could only come from being pleasantly self-aware of his shortcomings as a dramatic actor. Furthermore, in Miss Congeniality, Shatner is a beauty pageant MC who used to be a big deal but now is past his prime and desperately tries to hold on to his fleeting fame. That's basically Shatner in real-life, and he totally crushes that role.
Together with his girdle. Come on, Bill, own your Poppin' Fresh-ness.
And he does it all with a mix of expressions. One of the best parts about Star Trek is the fact that Shatner's face can turn from a grimace to a smile to a weird mixture of joy and horniness and thinkin' about space-ness. The only problem is that it was tough to match these expressions to the appropriate scenes. So when it finally happened, like during Spock's death in The Wrath Of Khan we threw our popcorn into the air because the William Shatner Performance Slot Machine had finally scored a line up.
But acting students need to take notes during his scenes in Miss Congeniality. Whether it's him going from "Yes, this has been wonderful" to "Ha ha! I will be fired. Possibly tomorrow!", or going from "Please answer the question," to "I wish I knew what reality is anymore," it's all a master class in acting. It's a crime that he's not teaching a "William Shatner 101: An Introduction To Being (And Acting As) William Shatner" class at NYU.
I once heard someone comparing Shatner to Adam West in this regard, and I immediately punched them for being so wrong about William Shatner's acting that they deserved to go to the hospital for it. West is a versatile actor, while Shatner is only good when he's taking the piss out of himself. But when he does, he, appropriately, gives us pure gold.
Jessica Alba: Psychologically-Damaged People
When you Google "Best Jessica Alba roles," you get at least two sites that rank her performances based on how hard they made the writer's dick. That CANNOT be good for an actress' self-esteem, especially one such as Alba who has had issues with being perceived as a sex symbol. Unfortunately for her, Alba's performances in Fantastic Four, Never Been Kissed, Into The Blue, etc. have by now earned her the reputation of a barely respectable actress specializing in titillation.
Please don't take this as a call to "re-evaluate" Into The Blue, though. Let's leave that one where it is.
But, despite the cinema world's intense focus on ensuring that she never leaves the realm of "pretty lady that does tedious things," she knocks it out of the park when playing someone that's psychologically troubled. In The Killer Inside Me, Alba portrays a '50s Texas prostitute in a dark, sexual relationship with Casey Affleck.
When the two first meet, Alba goes through every emotion possible in under three minutes. First she's nonchalant, then coquettish and flirty, then fake-dainty, finally angry and psychotic when she realizes Casey, a sheriff's deputy, wants her out of town. She goes off on him, which causes Affleck to whoop her bare ass with a belt. That's when Alba delivers another amazing performance as her screams of pain slowly, almost seamlessly, turn into screams of masochistic pleasure. It's about as subtle as, well, a belt against a bare ass, and it has the actual psychological reasoning of a turd fire, but Alba sells it.
Yes, I am pretty sure scores of people have masturbated to this scene.
But Alba's too-spot-on portrayal of a broken person shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who's seen Sin City where she was the would-be victim of the Yellow Bastard, a pedophile serial killer. She is first introduced while dancing in a strip club and kissing Bruce Willis, the detective twice her age who saved her as a child. It's not the healthiest mindset, but who hasn't imagined stroking Bruce Willis' stubble with your tongue? Who hasn't right? Please, someone.
"Let's get married!"
For pure, Oscar-worthy Alba acting, though, you have to look to the Sin City sequel, A Dame To Kill For, where Alba has gone off the deep end. She hallucinates seeing the dead Willis everywhere and he keeps telling her how much he loves her. She also fantasizes about kissing him, but her face never shows a hint of happiness. This young girl turned wide-eyed stripper is now an expressionless, dead-eyed, alcoholic wreck, and it always feels so terrifyingly authentic.
I can't say whether Alba really is unhappy in her private life or not, but I can say that when her character says "This rotten town ... it soils everybody it touches," I get this feeling that she might actually be talking about Hollywood.
Jamie Kennedy: Optimistic Idiots
God bless Jamie Kennedy's heart. He tries just so goddamn hard. Whether it's in Scream, or Kickin' It Old Skool, or The Cleveland Show, his performances reek of desperation. He's the acting equivalent of that kid that ate pepper packets so that more people would watch him eat pepper packets. He was nominated for Worst Actor at the 2005 Golden Raspberry Awards for his role in Son Of The Mask, a movie that angrily rebels against the fact that we expect movies to be good.
The only reason he lost is because Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo came out that same year.
I still don't think he's a bad actor, though. The problem with all of those characters is that they're all pathetic but none of them are cheerful, and it's on the intersection of dumb and hopeful where Kennedy shines the brightest, like in Three Kings.
If Kennedy was a meme, he'd be the "You tried" star.
Kennedy's Walter Wogaman is easily the best character in Three Kings. All the other actors like Clooney, Wahlberg, or Ice Cube deliver controlled "dramatic" performances as soldiers in post-Gulf War Iraq, but Kennedy is the one actually having fun with the role by, ironically, being so serious about it. When he wrestles down an Iraqi prisoner with a map shoved up his ass, it's his gung-ho expression that makes that scene. And when he puts on night-vision goggles during the day and insists that they're working for him, he does it with all the conviction in the world.
There's also the fact that all the other characters are clearly jaded bastards due to Iraq being a shitbox, but Kennedy seems hilariously oblivious to it. He's literally described in the movie as "a guy who doesn't know what he's doing" and that makes for some really fantastic comedy.
He plays pretty much the same character in Tremors 5.
In other news, there was a Tremors 5.
The movie stars Kennedy as Travis Welker, the son of Graboid-hunter Burt Gummer, although the latter doesn't know it. The movie actually kicks off with Kennedy weaseling his way onto Burt's one-man monster-hunting team to secretly get closer to his dad, and it's just so ... sweet. And it all raises the question: Dear God, Jamie Kennedy, who convinced you to deliver your best performance in Tremors 5 of all movies? Because whoever they are, they are NOT your friend.
Brad Pitt: Anything Besides Handsome Leading Man Roles
When asked about what is wrong with Brad Pitt's face, most people would say "It's currently not between my legs?" but that's actually sort of his problem. See, Pitt is just too handsome. When Hollywood looks at Pitt, all they see is a throwback to the golden age, where you put all the best-looking dudes in roles that basically amounted to "bored business guy trying to act aloof around Katharine Hepburn." Most of them are blander than a cardboard sandwich from an alternative reality where mayonnaise was never invented (and where all movies star Josh Gad.)
Because of this, most of Pitt's performances are insanely dull. Mr. And Mrs. Smith, The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, The Tree Of Life, World War Z, and Moneyball could not be more different movies but they all sort of look the same thanks to Pitt's "Love me and give me an Oscar" face.
That's really tragic, too, because Pitt is a fantastic CHARACTER actor. Give him an eccentric, secondary idiot to play, and he'll get completely lost in that role. I won't say that his performance as a dumb-ass trainer in Burn After Reading is my favorite Pitt role ever, but it's definitely the most memorable. Even now I can see his ridiculous hair and that hilarious way he held his water bottle. He was a 40-something-year-old man acting like an 18-year-old, and I desperately want to know his story. How did he start working there? What do his parents think of him? Did his job interview solely consist of him asking Richard Jenkins how to work the water fountains?
Chad Feldheimer, you beautiful mystery.
Now, think back to Pitt's role in Inglourious Basterds. What was his best scene in the entire movie? If you said anything other than " BAWNJORNO!" you can fuck right off because I don't have time to deal with liars. Don't get me wrong, Aldo Raine is still badass and all, but that is literally the least interesting thing about him. It's when he's in the shadow of the movie's true main character (Christoph Waltz) and acts dumber than an anti-vax box of hammers that he achieves true acting greatness.
God bless this scene.
But Pitt is also capable of some amazing, non-comedic performances. He was genuinely unnerving as a mental patient in Twelve Monkeys, and really badass as a bare-knuckle boxer in Snatch, but only because he doesn't have to smile and be all inspirational and pure for the audience there. Ironically, Pitt shines brightest whenever he's not the star.
Someone once said that Pitt is essentially a character actor trapped in a leading man's body, and I could not agree more with that. All we can hope is that, maybe, his career will fail entirely, and, desperate for food and a place to live, he'll take any small supporting role that he can, thus putting himself in line for the kind of characters that he's best at playing.
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