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Stranded on a mainstream ‘Island’

Indie stars like McGregor and Johansson go down the path of Affleck

Ewan McGregor had the edge. He was one of director Danny Boyle’s boys, and he had a visceral effect on audiences. The smoldering Scot drew raves in such indies as “Shallow Grave” and  “Trainspotting” as well as “Brassed Off” and “Velvet Goldmine.” The heat was on.

Now he can be seen in “The Island,” the latest pulverization of the brain by director Michael Bay about the evils of human cloning. With all due respect to McGregor, a splendid practitioner of his craft, just about any waiter with a head shot and resume’ could have played this part. Why him?

Perhaps the only question more baffling than why he would tread so carelessly down the Ben Affleck path is why Scarlett Johansson would join him. She’s in “The Island,” too, and we can only hope some serious soul searching takes place in Hollywood over the wisdom of contaminating two fertile careers by condemning them to this hyperkinetic light show.

The Affleckization of two of our finest young actors is no joke. Let’s hope it stops soon.

While Johansson is a relatively new victim of this phenomenon, McGregor brings some experience in crass overexposure.  After all, he starred as Obi-Wan Kenobi in the last three “Star Wars” pictures. Only if he had gotten the Harry Potter part could he have flexed his acting muscles and gotten more time on more screens.

The danger here for any actor is becoming known for big paydays rather than for doing important work. And there’s nothing wrong with big paydays. Just about every actor in Hollywood at one time or another has succumbed to the lure of the voluptuous check. It’s impossible to pursue a hedonistic lifestyle without it, or even a garden-variety luxurious one.

Don’t take the path of AffleckThe problem is taking on too many such projects, like Affleck did. I might be one of the few remaining on Earth who believes he has some talent, but I can understand why many can never go there with me. Once you’ve traded in your indie chops for multiplex glory, it’s extremely difficult to make the return trip.

After Affleck did “Chasing Amy,” “Good Will Hunting” (for which he shared a screenplay Oscar with pal Matt Damon) and “Boiler Room,” he went bobbing for millions and came up without a career. Films like “Gigli” and “Surviving Christmas” will do that to you.

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The problem isn’t that certain actors exhaust their mojo by doing too many studio films, it’s that they choose lousy or overpublicized ones. After three “Star Wars” films and a Michael Bay movie, McGregor needs something that will make fans remember the spark they saw in him as heroin-addled Renton in “Trainspotting.” He may give it to them by appearing in the next effort by director Marc Foster (“Monster’s Ball,” “Finding Neverland”), a thriller called “Stay.”

Johansson is also unlikely to completely squander the good will she has built up with the public in movies like “Lost In Translation” and the recent “In Good Company.” She’s shooting a new Woody Allen film, and she’ll also appear in director David Fincher’s “The Black Dahlia.” But she still needs to be careful. Another “The Island” and she’ll be inching toward Tara Reid territory.

Money vs. credibilityOf course, these are not the only two actors in cinema who are stumbling a bit. Has anyone taken a close look at Angelina Jolie’s credits lately? After the “Lara Croft” pictures and “Alexander,” she shouldn’t be hiding from the paparazzi, she should be posing for them. Although “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” propped her up somewhat, she’ll still struggle to regain the credibility she had after “Girl, Interrupted” (for which she won an Oscar) and the well-received HBO movie “Gia.”

Before Sandra Bullock drew raves for her work in “Crash,” she appeared in a string of stinkers that included “Forces of Nature” (with Affleck), the two “Miss Congeniality” films, “28 Days” and “Two Weeks Notice.” Even though she was never established as an indie queen, she earned respect with a thriller like “Speed” and a light comedy like “While You Were Sleeping.” With a seemingly determined effort, she squandered it, although “Crash” may put her back on course.

But perhaps the grand booby prize goes to Jennifer Lopez — half of the ill-fated Bennifer tandem — for taking an acting career filled with independent spirit and reducing it to dust. After making her bones in highly regarded but offbeat works like “Blood and Wine,” “Selena,” “U Turn” and “Out of Sight,” she followed the red carpet toward the pot of gold with such clunkers as “The Wedding Planner,” “Angel Eyes,” “Enough,” “Maid in Manhattan,” “Gigli,” “Jersey Girl” and “Monster-in-Law.” Schlock director Ed Wood gained a higher level of esteem in the world of cinema than Jennifer Lopez enjoys today. She isn’t an actress anymore, she’s a product placement with legs.

In Hollywood, it has always been about perception, but never more so than today. With loads of media outlets and the internet, an artist has to be especially wary of allowing his work to become cheapened. When indie actors take the big money too often, that’s what happens. They become rich, but in the long run they lose what’s really valuable.

Let’s hope Ewan and Scarlett get off that island, and never go back.