22 January 2011

Tops: Great Tiny Roles in Terrible Films

There is a certain pleasure we get from watching really bad movies. Whether it's really just turning off brains for a few hours, enjoying making fun of terrible acting and plotting or just getting a chance to see some titties and explosions, bad movies can be pretty fun. Sometimes campiness can also be a true measure of a good time at the theater whether intentional, unintentional, as a metaphor that idiots took at face value or as a metaphor that everyone took at face value. Either way I could sit here and argue the good and fun yielded by all four of those flicks. But that's not what I'm doing today.

Today we look at a handful of performances that stand out from really shitty films. This the kind of stuff that' absolute garbage but then you sit back and think "Yeah but so-and-so was pretty good in that." I tried to weed out movies that may have been pretty shitty but had an awesome lead or otherwise films that may have had a good premise but otherwise failed. No, these are movies that are only worthwhile for maybe a few seconds of funny dialogue from some minor B (or C) Character. I've broken it down into a few parts:

Romantic Comedy Friends:
I can't believe how many times the stars on a bill for a Romantic Comedy are unwatchable but all their friends are hilarious. The problem is that while the producers make an effort for the leads to be believable more often than not they turn out flat and uninteresting. These side-characters peppered throughout the film liven it up and then often remain unrecognized. Take The Break-Up (2006). I didn't even know Jon Favreau was in this movie, but he centers the only good scene in this piece of trash (you can watch it here, as you can see, The Break-Up was so fucking bad that that's the best quality video I can find). On the opposite end we have Vince Vaughn as a major highlight to Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005). I actually like that movie, but we haven't seen Vince as funny since he played Brad's paranoid sidekick here.

Many times these kinds of movies may feature A-Listers a step before they hit it big. I'm thinking about Seth Rogen in You, Me and Dupree (2006), both Anna Faris and Rachel McAdams in The Hot Chick (2002) (McAdams plays a great scumbag) and Kathryn Hahn, Adam Goldberg and Thomas Lennon in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (2003). Even from last year's Going the Distance (2010) the hilarity came not from the leads or premise but rather supporting actors like Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Christina Applegate and Jim Gaffigan. Sudeikis, by the way, cleans up in this field (see also The Bounty Hunter [2010] and What Happens in Vegas [2008]). I'll also say while watching The New Guy (2002) I kept yearning for Eddie Griffin's character to take over and make the thing watchable. Lastly, that really cute sidechick from Hitch (2005), Julie Ann Emery is the highlight of that film over Will Smith playing himself and Kevin James playing white, fat and awkward.

Action Heroes' Dads, Bodyguards and Rivals:
There are a lot of terrible comic book movies, but some of them have some good characters. Sam Elliott playing the original Ghost Rider in Ghost Rider (2007) always seemed pretty cool as the grizzled cowboy version of the Hellish Badass. Of course his actual purpose in the film is completely unnecessary outside of exposition and his eventual departure leaves some legendary blueballs. I also still actually like this scene in Hulk (2003), Nick Nolte is fantastic as the old insane father of Bruce Banner, mostly because he is old and insane.

Reign of Fire (2002) is a pretty insanely cool concept that really isn't done well, tho it stars a pre-mainstream Christian Bale and Gerard Butler. McConaughey steals it tho as the asshole American who comes in to save the Brits once again. Whenever you get into an unwinable argument with an Englishman, it's always great to rub into his or her face how we saved their asses in Reign of Fire. More in the big-budget vein Tim Robbins gave us the only really interesting character in War of the Worlds (2005) and the only one, Martian or Earthling that gave Tommy any kind of real conflict. Finally in the muddled mess that is Be Cool (2005) The Rock gives us a charming, complicated bodyguard to Vince Vaughn (again?) that is the only interesting part of a terrible film.

Special Cases:
It's an enormous tragedy that Phil Hartman never had a greater film career. His most major late roles were in some terrible movies like Small Soldiers (1998) and Jingle All The Way (1997), but he's spectacular in both, especially in the latter where he really eats up his role as a goody-good but secretly lecherous neighbor. Imagine what Phil could have been in an actually good movie!

Looking through this whole thing I released that Dave Chappelle exhibits the trend in no less than three films. He's the funniest of the convicts in Con Air (1997), tho that film has some great John Malkovich and Nic Cage scenes, as well as Danny Trejo and John Cusack chewing it up. And Steve Buscemi. Alright, scratch that one. Blue Streak (1999), one of my favourite movies of all time also displays some great Chappelle moments. To get serious, Chappelle in Undercover Brother (along with NPH) is also the best part of Undercover Brother (2002). Man are all these Lazy Saturday Afternoon Movies or what?

Let's now talk about a special little movie called Southland Tales (2006). I've never seen another movie that tries so hard to be good and just comes up short. It's Richard Kelly attempting to duplicate the kind of trippy mindfuck he did with Donnie Darko (2001) and instead coming up with a plotless pile of shit. There is one famous incredible scene with Justin Timberlake though, you can watch it with a bit of context here. I actually saw this clip before I saw the entire film and I figured that there would be some really interesting characterisation surrounding this scene as well as some similar themes echoing throughout the rest of the film. No. It comes as suddenly and as strangely as this clip presents, then barely even comes back to JT's character. The film is full of miscast SNL alumni, weird Sci-Fi that doesn't add up and disregarded cool plotlines like this one. I'd love to see a version of this film that digs deeper into whatever the hell JT is thinking and doing in and around this scene but that's just not possible.

Now finally, the Tops, Best Ever Great Character in a Terrible Movie is...

Philip Seymour Hoffman in Along Came Polly (2004). I really wrote everything above as an excuse to talk about this. Hoffman as Sandy Lyle in this terrible, terrible movie is so legendary. He absolutely steals every scene he's in (a feat almost accomplished by Alec Baldwin in the same film). YouTubing this dude is necessary, here's a peak of some of his best work:

"Let it rain!" "I just sharted." "The Best Man is in the house!" It's endless. It's so hard to see this great performance in a movie with a main plot that's so, so shitty. Hoffman as the delusional former child actor Sandy Lyle lights it up, enjoying every fat moment possible. He's a loser that's completely unaware of his own pathetic nature, which provides some refreshing hilarity in a movie with a very uninteresting protagonist (Ben Stiller, at his most awkward), the most overrated funny girl in Hollywood (Jennifer Aniston as the ultimate MPDG) and a ridiculously overplayed plot. The common image of Along Came Polly is either the Hairy Basketball Game, the Ferret or the Indian Food disagreeing with Ben Stiller's IBS. Sandy Lyle trumps all of this, he needs his own spinoff. Of course, watching PSH fall on his face for an hour and a half may be overdoing it.

Or not.

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