The Reeler


July 31, 2007

Who Will Save the Talent?

The Reeler's triage tips for J. Lo, Jude, Robin and other flagging careers

Building character: Jennifer Lopez with Marc Anthony (L) and Bernard Hernandez in El Cantante (Photo: WireImage)

El Cantante just might jump-start Jennifer Lopez's moribund film career. The story of legendary salsa singer Hector Lavoe, the film (opening Friday in New York) stars Lopez's real-life husband, Marc Anthony, as the strung-out performer while J. Lo portrays Lavoe's wife Puchi, a foul-mouthed, drug-abusing Latina who may be loyal to her hubby but is not exactly the world's most sympathetic character.

Which is all to the good. Lopez is not without acting talent, but after early successes like Selena and Out of Sight, she has let her career be taken over by the demands of Bennifer-like celebrity and what seems to be an endless string of lame romances and comedies (Maid In Manhattan, Gigli, Shall We Dance?, Monster-In-Law... need I go on?). So playing a rather down-and-dirty part -- almost a character role -- seems like a good exercise in career transformation. Whether or not this is a conscious attempt to re-think Lopez's film career (and I'm not sure it is) is almost beside the point. The woman needs to make movies that have some pop to them, and take roles in which she re-affirms why we dug her in the first place. In other words: Get back to something with an edge in it, rather than make paint-by-numbers studio films.

And need I add that Lopez is not the only high-profile performer who could use a career make over? The lovely Latina has plenty of company. Whether it's a penchant for taking bad advice, appearing in a string of bombs or signing onto projects solely for the big paycheck, a number of once promising careers seem to be in serious creative jeopardy. What should they do to rebound? When it comes to these five film industry types, The Reeler has all the answers:

THE ARTIST: Robin Williams

THE PROBLEM: Lord, where to begin? Once considered a true comedic genius, the equal of Jonathan Winters in his brilliantly inventive improvisations, Williams has become a parody of himself, a motor-mouthed babbler whose riffs are annoying, often out of context and usually not funny. He's done some decent dramatic work (Insomnia, The Night Listener), but all too frequently opts to star in lame, loud trash like RV and License to Wed, where he can mug to his heart's content.

: Tie him to a chair and force him to re-watch maybe the best film he ever made, 1984's Moscow On the Hudson. Playing a Russian defector in New York, Williams gives a funny, sweet, utterly sympathetic and -- dare I say it? -- subtle performance. Thank writer-director Paul Mazursky for this, which should impart a basic lesson: find a talented hyphenate, let him/her create a film with you in mind and then listen to what they tell you. You don't have to act like you have ADD to make people like you.

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THE ARTIST: Halle Berry

THE PROBLEM: Post-Oscar syndrome. After winning the Best Actress award for Monster's Ball, Berry did what all too many winners before her have done: Overwhelmed with all the offers she was getting, she went for the money and took on a string of disastrous projects. Gothika, Catwoman, Perfect Stranger, even Die Another Day -- none of them helped her career. In fact, they almost sunk it.

THE SOLUTION: She's one of the most beautiful women in the business, but really proved herself when she deglamorized for her Oscar-winning role. So the fact she's going the same route in the upcoming Things We Lost In the Fire, in which she plays a widow who develops a relationship with her dead husband's best friend (Benicio Del Toro), bodes extremely well for her future. Let's hope she's learned her lesson.

THE ARTIST: Wes Anderson

THE PROBLEM: Terminal preciousness. Rushmore was a wonderful piece of whimsy, a weird, offbeat comedy that successfully created its own little world. But since then? The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic have been hermetic to the extreme, films so overly controlled they seem to have been created in a vacuum, where all the life was sucked out of them. And the trailer for The Darjeeling Limited doesn't look like anything different -- just another vapid film school exercise.

THE SOLUTION: Go the Alexander Payne route. Make films about people, not set design. Quirkiness is not an end in itself; it's something you need to get out of your system.

"Playing all three ghosts and Scrooge in a new version of A Christmas Carol seems like the cinematic version of Dante's seventh level of hell."

THE ARTIST: Jim Carrey

THE PROBLEM: Major case of Robin Williams-itis (see above). Extreme mugging, intense desire to always be the funniest guy in the room, coupled with a need to be taken seriously on occasion. Sense of humor sophomoric, wears thin very quickly. Acting chops questionable at best. Always seems to be smirking no matter what he does.

THE SOLUTION: A tough one. Shelf life seems to be way over (The Number 23? Please!), but he probably did his best, and most subtle, work in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Maybe Carrey needs another European auteur like Michel Gondry behind him, but one thing seems certain: playing all three ghosts and Scrooge in a new version of A Christmas Carol seems like the cinematic version of Dante's seventh level of hell.


THE PROBLEM: Too pretty for his own good, and dangerously over-exposed. Three films in 2006 didn't help, none of them (All the King's Men, Breaking and Entering, The Holiday) all that memorable. Law hasn't really blown anyone away since he made The Talented Mr. Ripley eight years ago, and seems to have a knack for choosing projects that don't even sound good on paper, or in which he's hopelessly miscast (the Alfie remake, a Russian sniper in Enemy at the Gates, Cold Mountain).

THE SOLUTION: At the risk of being obvious, play against type. Law has been a fascinating bad guy in Gattaca and Road to Perdition, and walked away with AI: Artificial Intelligence playing the sex android Gigolo Joe. Maybe Law's decision to appear in the remake of that delicious mystery/comedy Sleuth, in which he is excellent as a self-absorbed shit, is a conscious attempt to get back to his actorly roots and show the range that was once so impressive. Let's hope so.

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