Even a great actor has a bad performance. Rarer still, is when a bad actor has a great performance. But for today’s purposes, we’ll focus on the former. The list of bad movies is too long to analyze for a Friday Five, so I thought I’d focus on what I consider five of the worst hatchet jobs of acting I’ve ever watched. In some cases, a bad actor can make a movie entertaining, in its own, weird way. In most cases, it just ruins a good thing. Without further adieu…
Al Pacino in Scarface
If you thought Iron Eyes Cody, an Italian-American portraying a Native American in a TV commercial, was as low as it gets for racial stupidity, get a load of Scarface. Scarface wasn’t presented as satire, but no one told Al Pacino. How Pacino hasn’t been called out for his over-the-top racist minstrel show of an acting job in this movie is beyond me. His scenery-chewing acting is embarrassing. ”You leeeetle cock-a-rooch!” Seriously? The fact that producers hired an Italian-American, painted him bronze and told him to feign a horrendous accent and no one said, “hey, is this all right?” escapes me. How does that happen?!?!
I like Brian De Palma films, but Scarface is just awful; from beginning to end, AWFUL! It’s hot garbage; and a harbinger of more scenery-chewing acting from Al Pacino, sadly.
Keanu Reeves in…anything
What’s the difference between Keanu Reeves and a cardboard cutout of Keanu Reeves? The cardboard cutout is more lifelike. Tell me: does his agent have naked pictures of studio execs he uses as blackmail on behalf of Keanu Reeves? Because I can’t think of any other way he gets so many A-list roles. The only time Reeves has ever been even close to watchable is when he’s playing a stoner. But as a lead in an action movie? Eesh. As a lead in a romantic movie? Eesh. I seriously don’t get it. Not for one second. The man has the acting range of a tree stump.
Cameron Diaz in The Counselor
The idea that every actor should have the range to play various characters is nice, on paper. In reality? Not every actor has that range. In fact, many simply can’t do it. Case in point: Cameron Diaz. She’s great in comedies and lighter roles. But when she’s thrown into the deep end as a heavy character? She flails and flops. As Malkina in The Counselor, we’re supposed to believe Diaz is this soulless, cold, calculating, evil mastermind. Yeah…not happening. She delivers her lines with all the gravitas of a shampoo commercial. I like Cameron Diaz—and make no mistake, comedy is not easy—but her work in The Counselor is a reminder to think twice when straying out of your comfort zone.
George Clooney in Batman & Robin
Hard to remember how adrift at sea the Batman franchise became back in the 90s. Despite a valiant attempt, Tim Burton never fully connected the dots on the Dark Knight; turning him into a goth, anti-hero in a Gotham City that was long one fog and short on lighting and superhero action of any sort.
Then along comes Joel Schumacher and his parade of primary-color cartoonishly hammy heroes and villains, prancing about a Gotham City that looks more like a bad Cirque du Soleil production. Jim Carrey as the Riddler as bad enough, but it wasn’t until Schumacher cast A-lister George Clooney to play Batman when he successfully piled the franchise into the ground. While Clooney is a solid actor and handsome enough to play the regal Bruce Wayne, his performance in Batman & Robin was horrifying. He delivered every line as though he were still on the set of ER. He was nothing more than Doug Ross in a cowl. In fairness to George, he had remarkably little material to work with. Everything about Batman & Robin felt more like a spin-off of the 1966 TV series than an honest attempt to create something epic and dramatic.
Thankfully, Chris Nolan came along and fixed everything.
John Wayne in The Conquerer
Before Chuck Norris, there was The Duke. The original tough guy actor, John Wayne was in charge, whether you liked it or not. His characters were grizzled, hardscrabble heroes who loved ‘Merica, stood up for what was right, would backhand you if you got out of hand and could shoot out your eyeball with a rifle from 100 yards out. He wasn’t some foppish dandy like Hugh Grant, fawning for the affections of a woman in a plucky, British rom-com. He was John freakin’ Wayne!
The iconic cowboy in American cinema; the quintessential embodiment of the rugged, American frontiersman of the Old West. I could go on and on.
When you picture Wayne in your head, you probably see a cowboy hat, a six-shooter, a horse, a bandana around his neck and, quite possibly, an eyepatch. But, in 1956, he traded in his boots and spurs for Mongolian armor as…Genghis Khan? I would love to hear the story of how this period piece came about.
True, filmmaking has gotten more sophisticated over the years, as producers and directors strive for authenticity beyond cartoonish portrayals of ethnic characters (unless you’re Al Pacino in Scarface). Nevertheless, John Wayne as Genghis Cogburn is my all-time favorite worst performance ever.
Sofia Coppola in The Godfather III
It’s not a stretch to figure out how Sofia got a major role in The Godfather Part III. Someone really should’ve talked Francis Ford Coppola out of it. In fact, someone should’ve talked him out of The Godfather III. The entire production is a nightmare, and his daughter looked completely lost in every single scene. Her dead eyes and expressionless face gave no life to the dialogue falling out of her mouth in this disastrous final chapter in the Godfather trilogy. Her performance would barely play in a community theater version of Our Town.
Fortunately for Sofia, she found her talents behind the camera as a writer and director, just like her dad. She won an Oscar for Lost in Translation. Her acting will never win an award. Ever.