Pirates of the Caribbean 4: Five great actors that phoned in iconic roles for terrible sequels
Johnny Depp gotta eat. And pay his mortgage. And Disney pays very well. Maybe that explains why he looks so thoroughly bored in the new Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, opening tomorrow. Captain Jack Sparrow was endearing because he felt, in many ways, like Depp's id run amok -- a swashbucking troublemaker that pretended to be far less capable than he was, Depp's portrayal of Sparrow scared the hell out of Disney execs. Upon the film's release, however, he was immediately granted the status of icon, giving everyone in the world a whole new character to do bad impersonations of (see: Austin Powers). Now he feels like a tired creation, hampered by studio choices (quick, prove he's not gay via a liberal application of Penelope Cruz!) and begrudgingly brought to life by a great actor going through the motions. Depp wouldn't be the first to do so, nor will be the last, and at least he can go to sleep at night comfortable in the knowledge that he's among (some) truly great company (and surrounded by money).
The Actor: Pat Morita
The Character: Mr. Miyagi
The Film: The Next Karate Kid
People forget that Pat Morita got a heartily deserved Oscar nomination for his role in original Karate Kid. Half the battle comes from the fact that the key demographic for the 1984 macchiosploitation flick had never seen an episode of Happy Days and had no idea that Pat Morita didn't talk like that or know karate. Karate Kid is one of those '80s movies you see when you're young and never really watch again, leaving you with a hazy memory of the cheesiest moments and absolutely no recollection of the scene where Mr. Miyagi gets drunk and breaks down sobbing while telling his protege about the death of his wife and child in a Japanese internment camp that occurred while he was winning war metals in United States Army for killing the hell outta some Germans.
After enough time has passed, iconic moments become rote. But try to imagine someone living their whole life without hearing "Wax on, wax off." Maybe there's some natives in Papua New Guinea or something (they probably know "Paint the fence"). And while there were two lackluster cash-grab sequels to the original Karate Kid, the fun was in watching the relationship between Daniel and Mr. Miyagi grow into something that no longer needed catchphrases. In other words, Pat Morita was TRYING.
That's not so much the case in The Next Karate Kid, which attempts to turn the Karate Kid series into some kind of anthology wherein Miyagi travels around the country, never discussing (or even seeming to remember) his previous student/best friend, teaching teens with bad attitudes how to do really bad spin kicks. Apparently Miyagi has discovered that his original, mysterious ways of embedding techniques in his students was ineffective, and it's better just to drive them an hour out of Boston to the massive Buddhist monastery hidden in the New Jersey mountains. Miyagi says, "If must fight -- win." Pat Morita says, "If must buy new house, drag out Mr. Miyagi."
The Actor: Eddie Murphy
The Character: Axel Foley
The Film: Beverly Hills Cop 3
Fuck your ironic ringtone -- the Axel Foley theme is awesome. And so was Axel Foley. A wisecracking rookie cop who seemed much more like a natural con artist that realized he could get away with more if he had a badge, Axel Foley was the star creation at the forefront of the Eddie Murphy heyday. An exemplary piece of the big budget action-comedy genre for which the '80s came to be known, Axel Foley and Beverly Hills Cop are why we have movies like Bad Boys 2 (if you don't thank the cinema gods for allowing Bad Boys 2 to exist there is something wrong with you) and Rush Hour (it's okay to not thank anyone for that). Axel Foley was like Ferris Bueller with a gun, 200 percent more swagger, and 99 percent less sociopathy. In short, he was basically the action hero version of Eddie Murphy. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
Today Eddie Murphy is much better known for shucking his edgy, subversive roots in order to invent the fatsuit genre that Tyler Perry calls home. But it was traipsing out Axel Foley for one last run that set the Deliripocalypse/Rawmageddon in motion. The main problem? He's not especially funny. According to BHCIII director John Landis and co-stars, Murphy was in a deep depressed funk throughout the entire shoot, and maintained that Axel Foley had grown since the last two movies into a much more mature and serious cop and adult. Because grim and gritty Axel Foley is definitely the kind of hero we want in a movie about a counterfeit ring working in a deadly amusement park. That's not an action movie, it's an episode of Scooby Doo.
The Actor: Bruce Willis
The Character: John McClane
The Film: Live Free or Die Hard
Die Hard is a perfect movie. There is no counter-argument to that statement. If you do not think Die Hard is great, you are objectively wrong. Ninety percent of what makes Die Hard great is its lead character, Detective John McClane, the right guy in the wrong place at the wrong time. Foul-mouthed, ill-tempered and resourceful as a motherfucker, McClane was the perfect antidote to the excessive invulnerability of the heroes of the 80s. Arnold Schwarznegger slid through bullets in films like Commando, Stallone was impossible to kill in Cobra, and when they took wounds, which was rare, they ignored them and moved on to continue slaughtering as many people as possible.
McClane wasn't an ubermensch. He was a blue collar, one hundred percent vulnerable New York cop who seemed to consistently survive over-the-top shenanigans with a combination of wit and obscene good luck (probably to make up for the bad lunch that put him in the situation to begin with). When he got hit, it hurt. When he had to walk through glass, we felt it.
When Die Hard 4.0 came along, Bruce Willis was quoted saying that this Die Hard was the best of the franchise. I assume he got some kind of bonus for saying that -- maybe a new harmonica. Gone was the old McClane -- you know, the one that mattered. Suddenly he was a 50 year superhero, surfing on CG crashing harrier jets, jumping police cars into helicopters. Somewhere along the line he'd gotten himself into pretty good shape, lost his New York accent and discovered that the F word is pretty offensive to a family audience. Live Free or Die Hard isn't a terrible movie, but it is a terrible Die Hard movie, and it's an absolute shame that Bruce Willis would treat the character he defined in the '80s like a yippie ki yay motherfucking commodity.
The Actor: Harrison Ford
The Character: Indiana Jones
The Film: Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull (you knew this was coming)
Indiana Jones is the hero every little boy wants to be. More down to earth, fun and capable than James Bond, less of a dick then Superman, Ford brought his inherent rakishness and dry wit to the prototypical hero of the adventure serial, and in the process, managed to get himself linked to another iconic scoundrel. You always knew Indiana Jones would be okay because no matter what happened, Harrison Ford kept that twinkle in his eye that let you know Indy secretly thought every moment, even the danger, was fun as hell. And it seemed to be permanently stuck there because Harrison Ford was having fun too. How could you not have fun playing a dashing hero in what would turn out to be another arguably perfect movie (Raiders of the Lost Ark)?
While the sequels never truly reached the heights of the first Indiana Jones adventure, in each sequel, Ford was kept on his toes by complicated set pieces, awesomesilly situations, and the amazing actors he was cast against (tell me you wouldn't love to act out father/son arguments with Sean Connery). He always seemed excited to be there.
The only person excited to be a part of Indy 4 was George Lucas. When George Lucas is excited about something, it will be fucking awful.
If you've seen Harrison Ford in an interview lately, you'd find he's gone from charmingly defensive rogue to full-on curmudgeon. It feels as though it's literally impossible for him to be excited about anything other than flying search-and-rescue missions in his helicopter. An excited George Lucas and an impossible to excite Harrison Ford make for a sad, sad state of Indiana Jones affairs. In an attempt to challenge Ford in the charming department, they hired the kid from Transformers to dress up like Marlon Brando and be his son, and thought up set pieces like, "Everyone runs scared in a green room and we add in scary bugs later," and "Everyone runs in a green room really scared and we add in flying saucers chasing you later." Of course Harrison Ford didn't want to do this fucking movie. Helicopter fuel ain't cheap.
The Actor: Every returning cast member but David Arquette
The Character: Every character but Dewey
The Film: Scream 4 (honorable mention: Scream 3)
Wes Craven at the height of his postmodern powers alongside a writer that lived to take apart genre was an unstoppable team. Fitting perfectly with the deconstruction credo at its core, Scream came along, blew everyone away, and both saved and re-destroyed horror. It's a wonderfully structured slasher, complete with classical red herrings, daring set pieces and actual laughs. Neve Campbell came to represent and exemplify the series itself, and thus, by extension, the entire horror genre, and as it floundered, so did she.
So it makes sense that as horror begins to turn in on itself again, she trots Sydney Prescott out for another half-assed attempt at a decent movie. But the blame can't be placed solely on her shoulders -- everyone is sleepwalking through this film for a payout, including Wes Craven himself, who sadly appears to have nothing left to say.
I'm just sayin', guys, when my dad's arthritis made it nearly impossible for him to continue as a machinist, he retired and started drinking himself to death. You guys decided to answer your own iconic question -- "Do you like scary movies?" -- with "Yes, I like all of them but those Scream sequels. They're pieces of shit." Shame on you. Shame on all of you. When my dad was sober he used to say that if you're not gonna give your all to a job, you shouldn't bother doing it.
We don't like Indiana Jones because he wears a brown fedora, we like him because he cares. We don't like Depp because he spouts catchphrases, we like that whole acting-ability thing. So of course no one's gonna go see this Pirates movie, right?
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