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Shark Jumping 101: Do Something REALLY Stoopid
Jason Statham has jumped the shark.
"Jump the shark" is an idiom used to describe the moment of downturn for a previously successful enterprise. The phrase was coined during the final years of HAPPY DAYS when The Fonz (Henry Winkler) literally ski-jumps over a shark tank - complete in his trademark leather jacket.
One of the last of the full-blown action stars (CRANK, TRANSPORTER 1, 2, AND 3, DEATH RACE, WAR, THE ONE, GHOSTS OF MARS, etc.) has gone the way of action heroes before him. A successful international action star, his "Yes Men" told him he could (gag) diversify. And so we have CRANK 2: HIGH VOLTAGE, taking Mr. Statham from the Chuck Norris Method Acting Process (I know, I know – Chuck Norris doesn't need to act. He makes the audience act for him) smack dab into the Looney Tunes Method Acting Process (sigh...).
I should have expected what was going to happen for the next 90 minutes, when Jas survives a dead fall from a high-flying airplane. If you listen close enough, you might be able to make out the whistling sound as he plunges to certain death. But, like the invulnerable Wile E. Coyote, he lives to fight another day (okay, okay - so he was whisked off and had his heart removed - details, details...).
Anyway, this is not a critique of the thespian stylings of Mr. Statham. What I'm questioning is why, oh why do actors leave their cozy, secure cash cows to pursue what has always been certain cinematic suicide. Action stars, or for that matter any actor smugly hoisted on their high horse, wanting to broaden their base audience, turn to other genres like comedy or science fiction, align themselves with unfunny sidekicks, children or animals to make themselves more accessible. Success with this has been, well, practically nil, and many retreat back to the secure realm of their former action hero icons.
Shark-jumpers have abounded in recent years. Here's a few of them, in no particular order:
Sylvester Stallone: Once the
mighty Rocky Balboa and the invincible John Rambo, Sly made the leap - or two-step - to comedy with the Pygmalion, country-style musical, RHINESTONE. According to the Spike TV show MANSWERS, the one style of music that is the blame for the most suicides is country music. Stallone's performance as Drinkenstein could make even the most effervescent Pollyanna reach for the razor blade. After a few of these disasters (STOP! OR MY MOM WILL SHOOT, OSCAR, SKY KIDS 3-D), Stallone returned to what he knew best, and in my opinion, gave some really gritty, heartfelt (though still unbelievable) performances in ROCKY BALBOA and RAMBO. Yo, Adrian! Keep this man on track.
50,00 Out-of-Work Comedians, and We Get Arnie with a Ukulele
Arnold Schwarzenegger: Arnie, what were you thinking? The CONAN series, COMMANDO, and the TERMINATOR series made him money hand over fist. Was The Governator satisfied? Do we really need to answer that one? KINDERGARTEN COP, JINGLE ALL THE WAY, JUNIOR (I just involuntarily relived myself on that one!) assured his position on the shark tank diving board. His last attempt at diversification as Mr. Freeze in BATMAN & ROBIN pretty much assured his position as the Shark Jump King. He never really recovered, even stooping to taking an uncredited bit part in the 2003 Dwayne Johnson action movie, THE RUNDOWN. More on him later. He even took a cameo role with a character he created in a movie that identifies his career. He did a walk-on as a Terminator in TERMINATOR: SALVATION! He is currently playing the role of the Governor of Caly-forn-ya. I won't give any political commentary. This is a movie commentary.
Robert DeNiro!: You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me? Then who the hell else are you talking... you talking to me? The most repeated tough guy line in all of cinema history, more memorable roles than the next three actors combined, two Oscars, 28 other awards for acting and directing. And he gives us ANALYZE THIS and ANALYZE THAT? ROCKY and BULLWINKLE? Robert DeNiro as Fearless Leader?
Fearless Leader???????????? His current roles now consist of his playing - Robert DeNiro (sigh...).
Hulk Hogan - Trend Setter
Bruce Willis, already a wise-cracker, jumped his shark with his triple Golden Raspberry Award winning movie, HUDSON HAWK, and with his fussing over his newly-waxed floors and grotesque crying performance as Jimmy the Tulip in the WHOLE TEN YARDS. I'll admit he is comfortable doing comedy, but there are just some things we really do not have to see.
Hulk Hogan's cinematic career was mercifully short-lived (who could forget Thunderlips in ROCKY III?); he did a bunch of Direct-to-Video action movies with his (then) WCW cronies, before he dove tu-tu first into SUBURBAN COMMANDO AND MR. NANNY. He went back to what he also knew best - playing Hulk Hogan in a reality TV show. And the cinema world breathed a sigh of relief.
Dwayne Johnson: The Rock, World Wrestling Entertainment Champion, THE SCORPION KING, WALKING TALL, DOOM, first put on a silk cowboy shirt and a ten-gallon hat to play Elliot Wilhelm in the 2005 John Travolta sequel to GET SHORTY, BE COOL, then, if that weren't enough, followed in the footsteps of his WWF predecessor with THE TOOTH FAIRY. What is it about wrestlers and tu-tu's?
Jackie Chan almost didn't make this list, because his entire American movie career has been one big gag reel, though I am jealous that we are both the same age, yet he can do stunts at his age now that I couldn't dream of imagining when I was in my prime. But, he makes the list with AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS, THE TUXEDO, both SHANGHAI movies and most recently THE SPY NEXT DOOR.
Many action stars take huge risks to broaden their audience. Most fail miserably. Steven Seagal sings country in FIRE DOWN BELOW. Danny Trejo, quite possibly the scariest man in movies today (DESPERADO, CON AIR, FROM DUSK TILL DAWN and the soon-to-be-released MACHETE), sings Karaoke in the Larry the Cable Guy comedy (?) DELTA FARCE.
Even John Wayne - The Duke! slaps on the pancake makeup and puts on a Fu Manchu mustache to portray Genghis Khan in the 1956 epic THE CONQUEROR. Most of them realized what an incredible embarrassment they were to their fans and went back to their (and our) comfort zone. If there were any performers that successfully made the transition from action to another genre, I'd very much like to know.
Go With What You Know
There are some actors who discovered their niche, stayed there, and made a very comfortable living. The most notable was Jay Silverheels, Tonto on THE LONE RANGER on the radio, in the movies and on television. He played Tonto until the day he died. Speaking of the Lone Ranger, Clayton Moore played the Lone Ranger, even after his TV series was over. He would make public appearances as the Lone Ranger for supermarket openings, ribbon cuttings and the like. Even when he had a restraining order forbidding him from wearing the mask during the 1981 flop THE LEGEND OF THE LONE RANGER (Clinton Spilsbury's one and ONLY screen appearance), his fans still embraced him as the one and only Lone Ranger. Quick Aside: Because he was so identified with the Lone Ranger, Clayton couldn't get any other acting jobs as himself, so he would audition for other movie and TV roles as Jerry Potter. Since no one ever saw his face as the Lone Ranger, he made a nice living as Potter from 1982 till his death in 1999.
Ego makes you do stupid things. With a combination of thinking the grass is greener on the other side, and surrounding yourself with an entourage of professional butt-kissers, some actors thought that they could parlay playing Tony Manero (John Travolta) in SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER into Tony Manero in STAYING ALIVE, Jessica Spano (Elizabeth Berkley) from SAVED BY THE BELL to Nomi Malone in SHOWGIRLS and Garth Brooks to Chris Gaines.
Coca-Cola learned it's lesson with New Coke. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Actors would do well following that example.
NEXT COLUMN: THE SOLUTION
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May 20, 2010 10:25 AM
|Jason Statham was marvelous in his first outing, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Again, the "classic" moviestars didn't have to stoop down in order to get a paycheck. As usual, Mike, your column is informative and fun. Keep it up!|
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Until I find my footing, I'd like to vent on the state of today's movies. I will occasionally praise a movie that piques my fancy. But it's a whole lot more fun railing against a person's work who makes more money on a single project than I would make if I lived 500 years. Oh, I will usually make observations on movies rather than films. The difference? Films are critically acclaimed, while movies are just darned good fun.
Born in the Fifties with an extreme phobia for movies in general, I became obsessed with movies when I broke that phobia with the first movie I actually enjoyed, “The Ten Commandments.” I particularly like the kind of movie where you can put your brain on hold. I get enough reality and drama in my everyday life; I refuse to pay someone to subject me to the same. |
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