All The World’s A Stage… And I’m A Lousy Actor!

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In the words of Lauren Bacall, “when you talk about a great actor, you are not talking about Tom Cruise”. But in this age of celebrity, being a ‘great actor’ is in no way synonymous with box office success and personal wealth. Take Tom Cruise as a prime example; one could argue he has only ever turned in two powerhouse performances in Rain Man and Jerry Maguire and yet he is still considered a bankable (albeit fading) star.

But then what does being a bankable star really mean when somebody out there is repeatedly handing over their hard earned cash to warrant Scary Movie 5, Expendables 3 and Are We Done Yet? Terry Crews and the Wayans Bros. are never going to pester the Academy but they have their niche and I guess they must do what ever it is they do well, despite evidence to the contrary. But what really dictates the path an actress or actor takes as they negotiate their way through Hollywoodland?

Wayans Brothers

Very few actors in modern cinema have a 100% hit rate as studios plough more dollars into shallow vehicles to appeal to the vacuous masses (not you, cherished reader) than ever before. Hell, Righteous Kill kicked both De Niro’s and Pacino’s asses in one fell swoop! And I would love to believe it wasn’t Kevin James’ childhood dream to be remembered as A) a mall cop, B) a zoo keeper or C) Adam Sandler’s bitch but rather that external factors steer actors in certain directions and the further they travel down that road, the more they lose sight of their ambitions and USP.

But what of those who have tasted success for a brief glorious moment and live everyday in the desperate search for the next project to thrust them back into the limelight? The stars for whom fame shone bright but extinguished early (Macaulay Culkin) or have been typecast for eternity (Jason Biggs)? Or poor ol’ Corey Feldman who will be in his retirement home regaling pensioners with tales of how a Goonies sequel is just around the corner? Surely the McConaissance and Ben Affleck’s second coming have not so much dangled a carrot in front of these poor souls but rather mushed it in their sad little faces. These guys were arrested playing the bongos naked and one half of ‘Bennifer’ respectively and yet deemed more palatable than starring in Lost Boys: The Tribe.

“Talent is an accident of genes, and a responsibility” – Alan Rickman

But I want to focus on those real stars of the big screen who were once upon a time considered ‘greats’ in their field. I’m talking original bankable stars. Oscar nominated, edgy, genre pioneers that one day took leave of their senses. Just nose dived off a cliff. Took a bash on the head. Or became such egotistical, arrogant monsters that the mere thought that they should not personally play every character in the film was nonsensical madness.

In no particular order…

Nicholas Cage

Nicholas Cage 1981-2005 (Best of Times – Lord of War)

I have been quite generous to take Nic Cage’s glittering career all the way to 2005 but I have a particular fondness for the first National Treasure and Lord of War. But anyway, Nicholas Cage is/was a legend. A bonafide, bat shit crazy actor from the alternative pool. To name but a few highlights he is an Oscar winning actor for Leaving Las Vegas (’95), reeled off three cult classics (The Rock, Con Air and Face/Off) in less than two years, got as close as being fitted for the costume to portray his hero in Tim Burton’s aborted Superman vision, named his child Kal-El, takes inspiration from James Dean and is a freakin’ Coppola! Cage is at his strongest when dredging the depths of his bi-polar personality, flitting between demon possessed and laid back vacant but this doesn’t work if nobody’s watching. Did we grow bored of his antics? Is he just trying too hard? I don’t think so. I blame whoever’s choice it was from 2006 onwards for Cage to only consider straight to dvd flicks that only Liam Neeson would be proud to star in – an actor who himself is lucky not to be on this list if it wasn’t for the popularity of Taken. And attempts to be taken seriously (Joe, World Trade Centre) just ain’t gonna fly. Bring The Bad Lieutenant every time or just don’t bother, Nicholas. Adam Sandler

Adam Sandler 1995-1996 (Billy Madison – Happy Gilmore)

By writing and starring in Billy Madison (’95) and Happy Gilmore (’96), the former room mate of Judd Apatow launched himself as a heart-warming, leading comedy light in the mid-nineties; his cameo laden films pitched just a notch above dick and fart jokes. The childish voices and immature humour was delivered with such gusto that it ram-raided its way into your heart and dvd collection, becoming a cult favourite for many and delivering an actor the MTV generation could grow old with. But Sandler had other plans. Rather than evolving his humour and continuing to tap the vein that shot him to stardom in the first place, he decided to remove every last trace of sense and intelligence from his repertoire and instead focus purely on ridiculous baby voices, dated plots, crap hair and an insistence on repeatedly casting the unfunniest troupe of comedians to ever grace the big screen. Adam Sandler would be held in higher regard if his entire career consisted only of Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, Punch Drunk Love and Funny People but sadly his legacy has been diluted to nothing more than a Rob Schneider laden crapfest.

De Niro

Robert De Niro 1973-1998 (Mean Streets – Ronin)

Quite possibly the saddest entry on the list and an actor of once legendary status who has been missing in action since 1998, last seen leaving the set of Ronin in high spirits. Good ol’ Bobby D has probably embodied more iconic movie characters than any other actor dead or alive. This one amazing guy is responsible for (deep breath) Johnny Boy, Vito Corleone, Travis Bickle, Michael Vronsky, Jake LaMotta, Noodles, Al Capone, Jimmy Conway, Max Cady, Mad Dog Dobie, Sam Rothstein, Neil McCauley and Father Bobby to genuinely name but a few! Often impersonated but rarely equalled, the late great Robert De Niro had the world by the scruff of the neck. He was one of the last great actors who could pick and choose his projects with directors queuing around the block to work with him. But hot off the success of Euro heist thriller Ronin something inexplicable happened. Obviously bored with a lifetime of playing nefarious hoodlums and against the ropes sluggers, De Niro fancied a touch of levity in his otherwise heavy career and chose to jump on the gangsters in therapy vibe popularised by The Sopranos with Billy Crystal and Analyze This.  Bad move as for what was assumedly intended to be a spot of light-hearted self-reflective fun has spiralled into a bizarre pit of self-lampooning farce which has lasted for seventeen years and we have suffered sequels to Analyze This, the hilariously unfunny Fockers franchise, The Family, Last Vegas and Stardust along the way. This was the biggest change in direction since the Wachowski brothers became the Wachowski siblings! We get it Bob, you used to be in gangster films! Is he just acting out? Put it this way, there will be an entire generation for whom the young Vito Corleone and head of the Tribeca film festival is nothing more than a wise guy parody.

Johnny Depp

Johnny Depp 1984-2001 (A Nightmare on Elm Street – Blow)

Dark, edgy, pop culture cool turned lame, over-acting aging hipster. Back in the day, Johnny Depp was the man; a throwback to everything that epitomised cool (wrongly or rightly); a smoking, drug taking, guitar playing teen idol. So how come now when I hear ‘starring Johnny Depp’, I shudder at the thought of what this final nail in the coffin ham-fest is going to be? I’ll tell you how – a decade and a half of churning out such gumf as (another deep breath) Once Upon A Time In Mexico (the beginning of the end for both Depp & Robert Rodriguez), Charlie & The Chocolate Factory (too close to the bone creepy Michael Jacksonalike), the out of steam Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, The Tourist, Dark Shadows, The Lone Ranger, Transcendence and Mortdecai. The man is now reduced to cameos in Channing Tatum films… He was Donnie Brasco and Ed Wood for pete’s sake! An option for Depp may have been to reinvent himself Robert Downey Jr style but for a man who probably still considers himself too cool for skool, this just wouldn’t wash and sadly, since Blow, he has become yet another joke on the Hollywood scrap heap. Maybe a few years off the screen and a geri-action come back could resurrect this once great dark actor for a whole new audience…

Eddie Murphy

Eddie Murphy 1982-1994 (48hrs – Beverley Hills Cop III)

Comedian, actor, writer, singer – the former jack of all trades has for a long time now been a master of none. The early days were great for Murphy. 48hrs and Trading Places eased the streetwise, fast talking native New Yorkers transition from stand up comedy to film with consecutive Golden Globe nominations and buddy comedy Beverley Hills Cop cemented his place at the top of the eighties tree. Dipping in and out of standup with the legendary Eddie Murphy Raw (’87), he related to the common man (ok, black man in Brooklyn) before releasing Coming To America and rounding out the classic Beverley Hills Cop trilogy. With Eddie Murphy it is very clear to pin point when it all went wrong… What the hell was The Nutty Professor?? Dated, irrelevant tosh made all the worse by Murphy embodying every member of the family. And seemingly oblivious to his shelf buckling under the weight of Golden Raspberry awards (fourteen nominations to date!), he goes and reincarnates the same format in Norbit. This guy must have an ego rarely seen in the modern day and I’m afraid a decent turn in Dreamgirls doth butter no parsnips. I would argue that Shrek was only enjoyable the first time around and contractual agreements may be to blame for the straight to dvd spinoffs Murphy is involved with but how you explain Life, Dr. Dolittle, Bowfinger, Showtime, The Adventures of Pluto Nash, I Spy, Daddy Day Care, The Haunted Mansion, Imagine That, Tower Heist and A Thousand Words I simply do not know. After a glittering start, that my friends is an unrivalled run of failures. I’m tempted to say stick to what we loved you for Eddie but that donkey has regrettably long bolted.

And I could go on…

Whilst it may be easy to pin point precisely when these actors dropped off the radar in terms of quality – and of course that’s down to opinion – the reasons for this can only be speculated. People’s motivations change as they mature and this is going to be reflected in their choice of output but the common denominator here would appear to be the ill-placed or ill-advised desire to open their appeal to a new audience. Inevitably, that requires diluting their personalities to play to the family crowds with their buckets of pick n mix and brand allegiance. Short of donning an armoured suit and embodying the next stripped back, relatable superhero, too much damage has been done for these former greats to offer anything meaningful to cinema again and I swear to God, if Al Pacino ever voices a Disney anti-hero, I may just kill myself…

If you’ve been affected by the sudden drop off in quality by your favourite actor or actress then you are not alone. Got some suggestions for another list of lousy actors? Comment below and spark a debate! We’d love to hear from you…

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