Like many movie-lovers, I’ve been disappointed by the string of awful movies by actors who have been historically great. Actors like Adam Sandler (Happy Gilmore), Jim Carrey (The Truman Show), Nicolas Cage (Leaving Las Vegas), and Eddie Murphy (Trading Places). And I’m sure anyone reading this is familiar with the immediate backlash against “Jack and Jill,” which, as of writing this, has a 3% fresh rating and 38% audience rating on rottentomatoes.com. Like many others, my first thoughts on seeing the awful trailer were along the lines of “Why are you doing this?” and “You used to be so funny!” After thinking for a while, I stopped blaming Adam Sandler and other actors like him for their flubs, and here’s why:
They Didn’t Make the Movie
Adam Sandler was, undoubtedly, the big draw for moviegoers to see “Jack and Jill,” and as such, he’s the name everyone associates with it. But a quick check on imdb shows that he was, at best, minimally involved with the production outside of acting. There were three writers, six executive producers, three producers, one co-producer,and one associate producer. In all fairness, Sandler's name appeared twice on that list. But the fact remains that he did not have creative control of the movie (so if you want to blame someone, blame the Director Dennis Dugan, whose imdb awards page is officially the saddest thing I’ve seen all day). But he was still the lead actor in the movie, so that’s still his responsibility, right? Well…
The Movie Was Awful, Regardless of Acting
Let’s look at The Wicker Man. One of the most commented upon aspects of the gigantic flop was that of Nicolas Cage’s acting. Honestly, it was pretty awful. But let me ask you this: If you replaced Cage with any other actor, would it have been a good movie? And I don’t mean “a better movie,” because a better performed version would still be shit. Why? Because the movie as a whole is terrible.
Should an actor try his/her best, even if the movie is terrible? Sure. But then again, acting is an entirely different kind of job. As long as they get asses in seats, it doesn’t matter to their bosses whether or not they put on a great performance, because after all…
This is Their Job
We in the audience like to think of movie stars as idealistic visionaries who hold the search for truth and aesthetic beauty above such common concerns as money. We in the audience are (for the most part) wrong. I’m sure all actors wish that they could do nothing but prestige pieces, make only movies that they feel are cinematic achievements in excellence. But then reality sets in because a) a majority of movies are of average or below average quality and b) the crappy movies have a better chance of success.
Don’t believe me? In 2009, Robin Williams had three mainstream releases. The first was Old Dogs, in which Williams and John Travolta have take care of twins (wacky hijinks ensue, and they learn important lessons about family). Of 106 critic reviews on rottentomatoes, only 5 were positive. It grossed $96 million internationally. The second film was Night at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian, in which he plays Teddy Roosevelt as part of an ensemble cast. This one did better on rottentomatoes, receiving 70 positive votes to 93 negative. It grossed $413 million internationally. He was also in a movie called World’s Greatest Dad, an R-rated dark comedy where he plays a divorced father and failing English teacher until his son accidentally kills himself and becomes a cult icon at the school Williams teaches at. Of the 115 critic votes on rottentomatoes, 102 were positive. It grossed about $200,000. The well-reviewed, risky movie earned .03% of the combined gross for the other two mainstream movies released in 2009.
An actor’s job is to act and to get people to go to the theaters. If they can earn more money and do both by being in a crappy movie with a larger audience, it’s not just their right, it’s the smart thing to do. Because they can’t buy things with prestige. So why don’t we cut the actors a break, and take a look at ourselves, because they wouldn’t keep making these shitty movies if they weren’t so damn profitable.