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Award winner? Oh, how the mighty have fallen

Cuba Gooding Jr. is just the latest in a list of actors who’ve made all the wrong choices.
/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

Back in 2002, when Eddie Murphy picked up a receiver to phone in his performance in the shrill comedy “Daddy Day Care,” it’s likely he had no idea that only five years later, it would spawn a halfhearted sequel. Let’s assume, anyway, that we can absolve the Murphy of blame for “Daddy Day Camp,” a Fred Savage-helmed family pic that is far more tragedy than comedy.

This is, after all, a film that stars Cuba Gooding Jr. Oscar winner Cuba Gooding Jr. Even in just the trailer, we see Cuba showing the acting chops that earned him the coveted golden statuette by being vomited on by a hapless child, delivering the film’s paint-peelingly insipid moral (“You’re gonna be winners no matter what”), and mugging for the camera like a silent film star.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen — this kind of stuff is just par for the Gooding course these days. But to make Cuba feel a little better, here, in no particular order, is a list of other actors, both Oscar winners and not, who showed real promise at one point in their careers, and then squandered it faster than you can say “Sure, I’ll do ‘The Surreal Life’ …”

Tatum O’Neal

LOS ANGELES - DECEMBER 5: Tatum O'Neal arrives at The Hollywood Reporter's Women in Entertainment Breakfast Honoring Meryl Streep at the Beverly Hills Hotel December 5, 2006 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Katy Winn/Getty Images)Katy Winn / Getty Images North America

We all know the story: youngest Oscar winner ever in a competitive category at age 10, Golden Globe winner, blah-de-blah-de-blah. But here’s the thing. Tatum was good as a child actor. Really good. You’ve seen “Bad News Bears,” right? And then, well, a sequel to “National Velvet” happened and “Little Darlings” happened and puberty happened. Now here we are, in 2007, and O’Neal’s got a recurring role on standout TV drama “Rescue Me,” on which she’s indisputably the weakest link. Just goes to show you that a good child actor doesn’t necessarily grow into a good adult actor.

Ben Affleck

Ben Affleck gives a thumbs up as he arrives to the premiere of "The Bourne Ultimatum" in Los Angeles, Wednesday, July 25, 2007. Mark J. Terrill / AP

He’s the man everyone loves to hate, but for all the wrong reasons. Folks, don’t hate Ben for “Daredevil” or “Armageddon” or (shudder) “Gigli.” Or rather, hate and pity him because he made those movies … after having started so strong. Like him or not, you’ve got to concede that the screenplay for “Good Will Hunting,” which won him an Oscar, is pretty damn solid. If only someone had taken him aside at that point and said, “Ben, you’re going to get a big head from winning. Whatever you do, don’t start thinking you’re an actor. Stay. Off. Screen. Write!” But no, Affleck had to try to be a movie star, and for an entire decade. Then finally, this year, he’s penned his first screenplay since “Hunting,” an adaptation of “Gone Baby Gone.” It would be nice to think he might succeed with another Boston-set drama; too bad he’s also producing and directing.

Ice Cube

Ice Cube in MGM's Barbershop 2: Back in Business

Those of you who feel compelled to stand up to defend Mr. Cube, sit back down. We all know he made a phenomenal debut in “Boyz N the Hood,” and he was funny early on in “Friday” and “Anaconda.” But since then, he’s devolved into kiddie/action junk. Let’s take a look at his work from the last six years, shall we? “Ghosts of Mars” (any defenders?), a couple of “Barbershops” (lame, lame, lame), a couple of “Are We There Yet?” films, an “xXx” sequel … come on folks, this is unforgivable. Think back to “Three Kings.” Think how great the Cubester was. Now picture him pratfalling his way through yet another soul-deadening family movie.

Robin WilliamsToo easy. Next.

Kelly McGillis Remember her? Tom Cruise’s foxy fling in “Top Gun”? The sultry, Harrison Ford-seducing Amish temptress in “Witness,” a role that she rocked and that garnered her a Golden Globe nomination? Yeah, after that, it was pretty much all drivel, with the exception of a part in “The Accused.” There was the schlocky 1989 Abel Ferrara noir “Cat Chaser,” the McGillis-produced “Grand Isle” and a whole host of unmemorable or cringe-worthy parts. Her latest movie? The straight-to-video “Supergator.” Sigh. That pretty much says everything you need to know.

Scott SchwartzThis one is so good it hurts. Flash back to the ’80s, when you had little Scotty Schwartz, debuting opposite Richard Pryor and Jackie Gleason in “The Toy” and following that up with a hilarious role in holiday classic “A Christmas Story” as Flick, the poor kid who gets his tongue stuck to a pole in winter. Well, at some point in the ’90s, Schwartz decided to, uh, use his tongue for other things and reinvent himself in the world of porn. In 1996, the unseen but possible masterpiece “Scotty’s X-Rated Adventure” hit VCRs everywhere, followed only a year later by both “Dirty Bob’s Xcellent Adventures 35” and “36.” Astoundingly, “New Wave Hookers 5” and a couple of other smutty titles didn’t boost Schwartz’s legit film career.

Gary Busey

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 3: Actor Gary Busey arrives at the "Lost in Translation" DVD Launch Party on February 3, 2004 at Koi Restaurant in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Giulio Marcocchi/Getty Images). *** Local Caption *** Gary BuseyGiulio Marcocchi / Getty Images North America

These days, he’s everybody’s favorite crazy nutjob, but way back when (1979, to be exact), he was nominated for both an Oscar and a Golden Globe for “The Buddy Holly Story,” and deservedly so. Busey playing Holly was as astounding as Val Kilmer playing Jim Morrison in “The Doors.” However, if the IMdb.com is to be believed, Busey has made somewhere close to 100 movies since his moment of glory, roughly 40 of them in the last seven years, and he’s got six more scheduled for 2007. With that kind of quantity, it’s inevitable that the quality will suffer. These are never-to-be-seen flicks with titles like “The Gingerdead Man” and “Succubus: Hell Bent.”

Jennifer Grey Grey’s story may not quite qualify as tragedy, but it’s close. Consider it a cautionary tale about how one bad decision can end a career. In one moment, she was riding high with a successful role as Ferris Bueller’s obnoxious sister and a Golden Globe-nominated performance as Baby in “Dirty Dancing.” In the next, she was under the knife for a nose job that ended up botched and resulted in a more traditionally beautiful but much less distinctive face. A face that was thereafter relegated to TV movies and obscurity. To her credit, Grey mocked herself during a rhinoplasty-referencing scene on late-’90s sitcom “It’s Like, You Know …” but that doesn’t change the fact that she’s unknown now. And nobody watched that sitcom anyway.

Eugene Levy

Bruno Vincent / Getty Images / Getty Images Europe

This one’s tough, because every now and again, he’s great. But for every “Best in Show” or “A Mighty Wind,” there’s an “American Pie 5: The Naked Mile” or a “Cheaper by the Dozen 2.” Or a “The Ladies Man.” Or a “Bringing Down the House.” You get the picture. It’s too bad the crap has so diluted what was a brilliant comedic career. Remember “Vacation”? “Splash”? Hell, even “SCTV” had its oddly Canadian moments of hilarity.

Tim AllenIt’s arguable whether the grunt-happy actor once arrested for cocaine trafficking actually had talent to squander in the first place, but I’ll make the case for yes. While Allen was entertaining in the “Toy Story” movies, he was truly great in “Galaxy Quest” as a washed-up, boozing Shatner parody. Since then … not so much. “Santa Clause” sequels, kids’ flicks, a movie in which he’s a dog? Nope, we’ve lost him for good. And if you had any doubts, “Wild Hogs” is the final proof; it’s like a who’s who of washed-up once-greats: Martin Lawrence, John Travolta, Ray Liotta — they’re all here. Oh, and the inimitable William H. Macy is too, for some reason. The point is that Allen sucks now.

Patrick Enright is a freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in MSNBC.com, Mr. Showbiz, Wall of Sound, Movies.com and Seattle Weekly.