Ever wonder why such famous stars can sometimes make such terrible movies? Respected movie critic and Roger Ebert's other half, Richard Roeper, analyzes this phenomenon, among others, in his new book, "Schlock Value: Hollywood At Its Worst." Including reviews of fake accents and ways to improve the Academy Awards, Roeper's book pokes fun at every aspect of the movie experience. Read an excerpt below.
If the entire world lined up according to comedic talent, we could be certain of two things:
1. Carrot Top, Rob Schneider, Pauly Shore and Tom Green would be bonding in the far reaches of our 6.3 billion-person queue, behind such prominent humorists as Dick Cheney, your neighborhood butcher and either Olsen twin.
2. Chris Rock would be at the very front of that humor line — maybe even leading the parade.
Rock just might be the funniest person on the planet. As a stand-up comedian, he has harnessed the raw brilliance that was evident when he was a teenager and has become an ice-cool master of the craft — a worthy successor to Bill Cosby, George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy, perhaps the five best pure stand-ups of the last half-century.
Rock’s scathing insights on race are brave and funny and painfully true, his social observations are poignant and bullshit-free, and his views on romance and relationships are priceless. (He’s also a gutsy performer — a rare famous person who’s willing to offend his fellow residents of Celebrity Nation in pursuit of the memorable laugh. At the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards, Rock dared the audience to laugh with one-liners such as, “Having Paula Abdul judge a singing contest is like having Christopher Reeve judging a dance contest!”)
Rock is also an edgy and self-effacing ad-lib artist, as evidenced by his HBO series and specials, his appearances on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno and Late Show with David Letterman, his awards show work on MTV and his guest stints on Howard Stern’s radio show, a forum where many a lesser talent has floundered and flopped like Nemo on a cold floor.
But what about the comic as an actor? Though the very young Chris Rock was never fully utilized on “Saturday Night Live,” he did flash some potential in a few skits, and that promise looked even brighter after Rock’s critically acclaimed, straight-dramatic portrayal of a crack addict who can’t stay clean in the under-appreciated “New Jack City” (1991). It was a juicy, nasty little part, and he nailed it.
Until he actually started making movies, one after another, and they sucked, one after another.
Even as his stand-up career soared, Chris Rock the thespian spent much of the 1990s doing forgettable supporting work in such mediocre, middle-of-the-road dreck as “Panther,” “The Immortals,” “Sgt. Bilko,” “Beverly Hills Ninja,” “Lethal Weapon 4” and “Doctor Doolittle.” (He also did “Dogma,” Kevin Smith’s bold and interesting religious satire, in which Rock appeared nude and facedown on a highway, like skinny roadkill.) Examine that roster again, and imagine having to sit through all of those films in a home viewing marathon. The mere thought of it brings you to the edge of tears, doesn’t it? We’re talking about the kind of films that are mentioned prominently on Comedy Central roasts — and conveniently ignored during career tributes.
Still, you can’t place all the blame on Rock for these disasters, any more than you can blame the backup catcher for the 2003 Detroit Tigers for a 43–119 season. Rock was just a supporting player — a bench guy who did what he could with limited playing time. It ain’t Chris Rock’s fault that “Lethal Weapon 4” is toothless junk.
So what happened when Rock was given the opportunity to be the featured attraction and in some cases a behind-the-scenes force? The movies actually got worse. A lot worse. From “Down to Earth,” an idiotic, cheesy and flat-out unfunny rip-off of “Heaven Can Wait,” to “Bad Company,” an idiotic, cheesy and flat-out unfunny rip-off of “48 HRS.,” to “Head of State” (which Rock also wrote, produced and directed), an idiotic, cheesy and flat-out unfunny rip-off of “Dave,” Rock starred in a succession of disappointing and curiously safe vehicles that are more depressing than the latter part of Gene Wilder’s film career. (I won’t even mention the execrable “Pootie Tang” other than to say that if you’re ever tempted to rent, watch or own “Pootie Tang,” lock yourself in a room until that temptation goes away.)
How did this happen? How did someone as smart and talented as Chris Rock take a string of supporting parts that might easily have gone to a Gilbert Gottfried or even a (shudder) Bobcat Goldthwait in an even crueler movie world? And once Rock was given the chance to do above-the-title roles, was he offered nothing better than, for example, the retread buddy-movie “Bad Company”? Was there nobody in Rock’s life who could have told him that his own scripts for “Down to Earth” and “Head of State” were clunkers — that the roles he wrote for himself were one-dimensional clichés, far beneath his talents as a comedic actor?
Movies are hard. Even if you’ve been magic-wanded with heavy doses of talent, charisma and great good fortune, even if you have a great work ethic and a keen sense of the business and you’ve managed to avoid career death by sex, drugs, booze, money, stupidity or your own ego — even if you’re Jack Nicholson, for Chrissake — you’re not going to have a 1.000 career batting average. Nobody bats 1.000. Meryl Streep is a genius, and she’s savvy, and she’s picky. Throughout her career, Streep has made wise choices, and she’s had an amazing run filled with memorable performances in classy fare. Yet her filmography includes “Plenty,” “Falling in Love,” “She-Devil” and “Before and After.” Watch those duds back-to-back-to-back-to-back, and you’ve just had an eight-hour preview of life in purgatory.
Overall, though, Streep is a first-ballot Hall of Famer who’s batting about .750 for her career, meaning that about three of every four films in which she appears are worth your time and money. (We’re talking about the quality of the films, not necessarily the box-office results — though if a film grosses a couple hundred mil, I’d be inclined to include it in the “lucky hit” category and give the actor credit for it as a quality at-bat. A commercial hit can provide the fuel to rocket an actor through a few major studio flops and also give her the security to try one or two smaller films.) Other stars hitting in the general stratosphere of 75 percent include the aforementioned Mr. Nicholson, Tom Hanks, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford, Paul Newman, Jane Fonda, Denzel Washington and Julianne Moore, along with such young stars as Tobey Maguire and Matt Damon. Dozens of other actors, from Julia Roberts to Meg Ryan, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kirsten Dunst, Brittany Murphy and Jake Gyllenhaal, have a success rate of about 50 percent. They’re .500 hitters — equally as likely to appear in a good film as a bad one.
Chris Rock? He’s hitting about .100.
They get star billing in one movie after another. They’re paid hundreds of thousands of dollars, or in some cases millions of dollars, to act in major studio films. They walk red carpets and they joke it up with Jay and Dave and Conan, they’re in regular rotation on the “E!” video jukebox, and they’re often asked for their autographs by adoring fans. Magazines such as Us, People and In Touch take photos of them when they’re having lunch at the Ivy or getting coffee at Starbucks.
Only one hitch: Their films are consistently, inevitably, irrefutably crappy. Following we have some of the less successful stars of the last fifteen years, with the focus primarily on the young or at least youngish actors who are still getting offered major roles in mainstream fare. (What’s the point of listing the numerous flops starring a Sylvester Stallone or a Linda Fiorentino when they’re no longer appearing in big studio releases on a regular basis?) I’ve listed some of their more prominent hits and misses, but the “career batting average” is for the entire body of work — and the batting average is the percentage of quality films as determined by, well, me.
Madonna: Work of value: Evita (1996), and supporting work in A League of Their Own (1992), Dick Tracy (1990), Desperately Seeking Susan (1985)*
Cinematic crimes: Swept Away (2002), The Next Best Thing (2001), Body of Evidence (1993), Who’s That Girl? (1987), Shanghai Surprise (1986)
(*Madonna was the title character in Susan, but Rosanna Arquette owned the movie.)
Career batting average: 28 percent
Freddie Prinze Jr.: Work of value: The House of Yes (1997)
Cinematic crimes: Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed (2004), Scooby-Doo (2002), Summer Catch (2001), Boys and Girls (2000), I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (1998)
Career batting average: 14 percent
Chris Kattan: Work of value: None to date.
Cinematic crimes: Corky Romano (2001), MonkeyBone (2001), A Night at the Roxbury (1998)
Career batting average: 0 percent
David Spade: Work of value: Tommy Boy (1995)
Cinematic crimes: Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star (2003), Joe Dirt (2001), Lost & Found (1999), Coneheads (1993)
Career batting average: 17 percent
Sandra Bullock: Work of value: A Time to Kill (1996), Speed (1994)
Cinematic crimes: Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (2002), Two Weeks Notice (2002), Miss Congeniality (2000), Speed 2: Cruise Control (1997), Two If by Sea (1996)
Career batting average: 20 percent
David Duchovny: Work of value: Kalifornia (1993)
Cinematic crimes: Full Frontal (2002), Evolution (2001), Return to Me (2000), Playing God (1997)
Career batting average: 20 percent
Drew Barrymore: Work of value: Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002), E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Cinematic crimes: 50 First Dates (2004), Duplex (2003), Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle (2003), Freddy Got Fingered (2001), Never Been Kissed (1999), Batman Forever (1995), Bad Girls (1994), Poison Ivy (1992)
Career batting average: 19 percent
Josh Hartnett: Work of value: The Virgin Suicides (2000); Black Hawk Down (2001)
Cinematic crimes: 40 Days and 40 Nights (2002), Pearl Harbor (2001), Blow Dry (2001)
Career batting average: 30 percent
Tara Reid: Work of value: American Pie (1999), tiny role in The Big Lebowski (1998)
Cinematic crimes: National Lampoon’s Van Wilder (2002), Body Shots (1999), Urban Legend (1998)
Career batting average: 28 percent
Martin Lawrence: Work of value: Bad Boys (1995)
Cinematic crimes: Bad Boys II (2003), Black Knight (2001), What’s the Worst That Could Happen? (2001), Big Momma’s House (2000), Life (1999)
Career batting average: 12 percent
The foregoing is excerpted from "Schlock Value: Hollywood At its Worst," by Richard Roeper. Copyright © 2005 by Richard Roeper. Published by Hyperion. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from the publisher.