Thursday, November 3, 2011
Having a cast of great actors in a bad movie can be debilitating for the crew and audiences alike. After all, it's not a difficult train of thought to go down when assuming that strong a collection of quality actors couldn't have been assembled if the movie were going to be bad. However, we all know that great screenplays don't necessarily make great films. Still, if you're teetering on the verge of investing, seeing a healthy dose of quality in front of the camera may sway your opinion. This is especially difficult when you find yourself going back through films with the mindset of those actors' quality today.
Movies like The Last Castle, which features Robert Redford, James Gandolfini, Delroy Lindo, Clifton Collins Jr., and Mark Ruffalo, come to mind almost immediately. But it's not a movie I would necessarily classify as 'bad.' There's a lot of cheese and rubbish underneath the surface, but it does have some strong performances which help save it in the end.
Of course 'bad' is a subjective term, but even still I could make the case that Ocean's 12 is a poster child for this in modern times. Though I will concede it has got its fair share of staunch defenders. So I have to think of what makes a movie 'bad' for me. I would say it's a movie I keep being lured in by the cast, viewing after viewing, only to tragically realize too late that it'll never become good. For that award, I have a one-two punch of Samuel L. Jackson to thank.
First up, there is Sphere. The 1998 sci-fi thriller rocks the cast of Dustin Hoffman, Sharon Stone, Jackson, Liev Shreiber, Queen Latifah, and the oft misused Peter Coyote. A strong cast whose isolation should give way to their performance power. Fights with imaginary jellyfish, random leaps in logic, a giant golden ball of doom, and over two hours later you've got yourself a dud in the water. Sphere could never get everything working in unison. It kills off its most interesting characters, and puts the other in a coma. How someone could ever make a movie where Hoffman and Stone are the boring ones is beyond me.
Then there's the 2000 incarnation of Shaft. Now this one I must say really hurts. First up, there's the cast. Samuel L. Jackson, Vanessa Williams, Jeffrey Wright, Christian Bale, Toni Collete, Richard Roundtree, and Dan Hedaya. Along with the healthy dose of recognizable faces in bit roles here and there. The real misstep? Well, that's two fold. The first was thinking with such a solid cast, the addition of Busta Rhymes would make things better. He's a lead ball to this films feather strong storyline, dragging it down at every turn. Then there's the dialogue. Jackson can make anything sound cool, and he has to because many of the lines he's given sound like they were written by a thirteen year old, just coming off a win at the "that's what she said" national competition.
Bale is stuck a character about as interesting as a cardboard mat, trapped in an unhealthy dose of scenes alongside Jeffrey Wright who is forced to sustain some of the most painful dialogue I've heard in years. Roundtree pops in and out, but never has much to do other than being the original Shaft in a cameo role. Collete, bless her, tries to make the most out of another flat, lifeless character. Then you have Hedaya basically just playing a hollowed out version of his character from The Hurricane.
The worst part is, I've seen Shaft a good five or six times now, and each time I keep hoping it'll be good. It never is, but it what it is, is often on TV in the afternoon on weekends where I don't have much going on. So for some reason far beyond my own understanding of myself, I end up watching it. I end up thinking its rubbish, and I end up complaining to myself for falling in the trap again. Worse even still, there's a handful of other bad films I could put in the same boat.