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Movie-man candy: Looks great, no filling

Limited talent hasn't kept Paul Walker, other pretty boys from getting work
/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

Remember Skeet Ulrich? I mean, it’s not like he’s dead or anything. He even keeps on working in movies and television, so he deserves your good thoughts. No actor should starve or have to wind up doing those “Do you need some quick cash?” loan-shark commercials like Gary Coleman. Well, I wish Mel Gibson would. That would be kind of funny. But in general, it’s sad when that happens. And you know they’re not happy about it at all.

But even that level of employment must feel better than the moment I experienced recently when a funny, talented character actor I’ve seen and enjoyed in lots of films tore my ticket at a theater here in Los Angeles. Yes, this really happened and I’m not going to say who it was. You’ve probably never heard of him anyway.

But it made we think, “How can this cool dude who I’m pretending not to recognize right now not be working? Why is he an usher? Why isn’t Paul Walker an usher instead? Why isn’t Usher an usher? Why is life so unfair? Why am I about to go see “Grandma’s Boy”?

arrives at the 11th Annual Critics' Choice Awards held at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium on January 9, 2006 in Santa Monica, California.Vince Bucci / Getty Images North America

But back to Skeet. He was a Next Big Thing back in the ’90s. And then it just didn’t happen. He got magazine covers and the Publicity Push, but the public didn’t vote with their money after the “Scream” films.

He could be the next Philip Seymour Hoffman for all we know; like the alternate universe Hoffman who’s doomed to a succession of low-profile gigs with hack directors, waiting for a discarded Miramax movie to be finally pulled from the shelf and quietly dumped into theaters. Never getting a chance to whip out the actual talent like Heath Ledger finally managed to do. Auditioning for TV movies. Why aren’t Paul Walker or Usher auditioning for TV movies? They’re just as Not Awe Inspiring as Skeet ever was.

Or why not any number of other manufactured Hollywood hunks? Like Tyrese Gibson? Or big deals like Matthew McConaughey or Harrison Ford for that matter?

So. Who’s useless? Whose career seems based on something other than talent? Let’s start with the “up and comers”…

Paul WalkerHe’s been annoying me in a lot of stuff lately, like “Into The Blue,” the one where he ran afoul of underwater drug dealers. And now “Eight Below,” where he waxes deadpan about missing his lost-in-the-Antarctic-death-zone sled dogs. And soon he’ll be in “Running Scared,” where he’s secretly in the mob or something and has to thwart their evildoing.

Paul Walker’s talents are best utilized in movies where he gets to drive cars really fast while looking smug and not talking, or where he gets to be underwater, not talking. When he does talk in movies, you forget what he says as soon as he says it. You get the feeling he forgets too, like he’d rather get to the part where he can take off his shirt or flash that bleached, jerkish, frat-boy grin. He’s not dumb. He knows what his audience wants. And if Tom Cruise continues down the path to Crazy Town, he could end up taking the man’s place.

Tyrese Gibson

Did you see “Baby Boy”? It was funny. Two long hours of people yelling at poor former model Tyrese, telling him “You better get your life together, Baby Boy!” But not one of them was visionary enough to say, “Hey, have you ever thought of modeling? No, seriously, like get a portfolio together. You’ve got a great pout.”

How about “Four Brothers”? That was Tyrese, too. He was all mad in that one, out to get the bad guys who killed his mom, from time to time pausing to bang his girlfriend or harsh on his youngest brother’s possible homosexuality. But mostly just glowering with his model-ish cat eyes. He’s very good at glowering. Also sulking, pouting, angry staring and cold petulance.

He appeared in “2 Fast 2 Furious” opposite Paul Walker. It was 2 grim. More recently, he and James Franco made “Annapolis” all that it could be: an attractive man staring contest.  And that about covers Tyrese.

Matthew Davis

PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 21: Actor Matthew Davis of \"What About Brian\" speaks during the ABC executive question and answer segment of the Television Critics Association Press Tour at the Ritz Carlton Hotel on January 21, 2006 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/ Getty Images)Frederick M. Brown / Getty Images North America

Best known for his role as the boyfriend-accessory in “Legally Blonde,” his most recent film, “BloodRayne” saw him plastic-sword-fighting, wearing a mullet wig and getting it on Cinemax-style with a slutty vampire (“Terminator 3’s” Kristanna Loken). He had the good sense to have himself billed as “Matt,” fronting like he was a totally different guy entirely.

It’s a long crawl back to Reese Witherspoon after that sort of thing.

Usher

** FILE ** Singer Usher arrives at the Canal Room for a party in New York, in this Sept. 18, 2003 file photo. (AP Photo/Tina Fineberg, File)Tina Fineberg / AP

Technically not an up-and-comer, the star of the despicably awful, single-digit-I.Q. romantic comedy “In The Mix” is already a huge pop star, so it’s not like he needs or even has time for a serious film career now. This is a good thing because his movies have all been monstrous abuses of film and DVD technology.

He’s never allowed to sing in his films and if he can act it’s still being kept a very big secret. You’d think he could have at least joined the cast of a mostly sung musical like “Dreamgirls.” But that didn’t happen. Maybe Alexander Payne will direct the Marvin Gaye biopic and it’ll all turn around. Oh, whatever. That “Yeah” song will keep him in cashmere boxer briefs for life.

On to the A-listers:

Matthew McConaugheyDefamer.com is fond of calling the funny, talented Owen Wilson “The Butterscotch Stallion.” Naturally, I’m in favor of this. But I think the name suits McConaughey more. He feels like gloopy smarmy syrup being poured on every film he’s in.

**FILE** Matthew McConaughey appears in New York in this Monday, Feb. 3, 2003, file photo. McConaughey has been named the Grand Marshal for the Daytona 500. The actor will give the command \"Drivers, start your engines\" at the Feb. 20 race in Florida, NASCAR announced Monday, Feb. 7, 2005. (AP Photo/Diane Bondareff, FILE)Diane Bondareff / AP

Not counting his debut in the hilarious “Dazed and Confused,” have you ever walked out of a movie starring MM and thought, “Wow he’s got great comic timing! What witty banter he exchanged with Jennifer Lopez/Kate Hudson/Al Pacino/Skeet Ulrich (in “The Newton Boys”) and how charming I find him!” If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll know that you have not.

Flocks of women and gay men may find him sexually appealing in that “I’ve Got My Black Lab Draped Over My Shoulder In This ‘Candid’ Photo But While You’re At It Please Check Out My Eight-Pack of Abdominal Muscles, Won’t Y’all?” way, but his recent slew of bland romantic comedies are like death threats delivered in heart-shaped boxes, and his recent blue-collar-tequila “Oprah” appearance (“Let’s run instead of drive! I bathe in the river!”) was one for the Affectation Hall of Fame.

Harrison Ford

Actor Harrison Ford poses at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif., Jan. 28, 2006. Ford returns to the big screen for the first time in nearly three years in \"Firewall,\" a thriller about a family man squaring off against a gang of bank robbers that holds his family hostage. (AP Photo/Matt Sayles)Matt Sayles / AP

I know, I know. How dare I lump him in here! But here’s why I’m right: he’s gotten lazy. Somewhere along the way, post-“Star Wars” and “Indiana Jones,” Ford got used to collecting giant paychecks for playing the Stern Man Who Stands Alone (See: “Patriot Games,” “The Fugitive,” “Clear and Present Danger,” “Air Force One” and now “Firewall.”)

It was like someone told him that half the job was just showing up and that was the half he picked.

He needs to be handed over to cruel Austrian director Michael Hanecke (“Caché”) for his next film. Working for scale. It would be life-altering career surgery. In fact, every man on this list could use that kind of invasive procedure. They could prove that they’re not disposable after all. But, truthfully, if I had my druthers, the job would really go to the guy who tore my ticket that night. He’d just appreciate it more.

Dave White is the film critic for Movies.com and the author of the forthcoming “Exile in Guyville.” His blog can be found at http://djmrswhite.livejournal.com/.