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What?! Good Actors, Bad Ideas

Brittany Frederick Brittany Frederick
April 1st, 2011 4:05pm EDT

Remember that saying "the road to hell is paved with good intentions"? Even the best actors have their misses. Here's a list of some of my favorite bad performances, miscastings, and poor project choices - all the things that land great actors in bad situations. (But I still love them, regardless.)

John Barrowman, Shark Attack 3: Megalodon (2002)

Shark Attack 3: Megalodon is the worst movie that I have ever seen. I really wish that Mystery Science Theater 3000 was still around, because this flick belongs on that list.

While no one expects brilliance from a movie called Shark Attack 3, this is worse than some things I saw in film school. I'm proud to say I own it just so I can take it out every now and then and laugh.

And honestly, I would never have bothered with it if not for John Barrowman. Yes, that's the Torchwood star front and center in this ridiculous escapade. Bless him, he's in a bad movie and his performance screams that he knows it, but he's going to finish the job anyway.

Saddled with a female costar/love interest about as animated as a block of wood, dubious production values (the font of the opening titles actually changes within the first two minutes), and a script comparable to a Syfy Channel flick, Barrowman's a fine actor but he can't even make a dent in this trainwreck.

Give him credit, though: he's not even trying to make an apology for the film. On numerous occasions, he's publicly admitted that he had bills to pay when he signed up, and he knows exactly how bad it is. Check out his reaction when Jonathan Ross brought up Shark Attack 3 during one of John's guest appearances on his show. And if nothing else, the film did give us an incredibly memorable line...

Jason Clarke & Joan Allen, Death Race (2008)

This is the one that pushed me into making this list in the first place. I happened to come across this remake on cable one afternoon, and couldn't turn down seeing Jason Clarke even in a small role. After about fifteen minutes, it became clear that the majority of his job was to stand around in the background of everyone else's scenes. I was baffled by how an actor of his caliber could be so wasted, used as little more than furniture. Granted, that's good-looking furniture, but seriously?

And Joan Allen is in this movie? The same Joan Allen who gave a brilliant performance in The Contender? I'd love to know what she was thinking when she agreed to play the villainous warden of Terminal Island. She's done much, much better.

I'd sort of add Ian McShane to this list, because he's another great actor better than the material, but at least the former Deadwood star gets something to do as the resident mechanic. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for movies that are fun, but if you're going to bring in actors of high caliber, don't let them go to waste.

Ethan Embry, Fairly Legal (2010)

I never warmed up to USA's newest original series. But as the season went on, something became painfully obvious to me: Ethan Embry was horribly miscast as Kate's brother, Spencer Reed. Perhaps the writers figured that out, because his four appearances were mostly brief ones, and he was surprisingly absent from the season finale.

That didn't bother me, though, because I knew by then that he didn't quite fit. I was watching Brotherhood at the same time, and Embry's work on that series was above and beyond anything he was given to do on Fairly Legal. It had very little to do with the fact that Brotherhood is a complex drama with different material. Embry was Brotherhood's pleasant surprise, so much so that series creator Blake Masters has publicly said they purposefully wrote more for him as the show went on. His acting was so good that even his reacting was watchable. In contrast, Legal never gave him anything to sink his teeth into, or much of a character to develop. I felt he was miscast not because of any flaw in his performance or even the little material he did get - just that he needed a different show, one that would fit his talents better.

In Brotherhood and even in ABC's short-lived remake of Dragnet, Embry displayed that he has a real talent for bringing supporting characters to life. It's a shame that he wasn't truly given the opportunity with Fairly Legal.

Andrew McCarthy, New World Disorder (1999)

In truth, this whole film is a mess. It's not Shark Attack 3, but it's pretty bad. And the weirdest part of it all is how someone thought Andrew McCarthy should play Kurt Bishop, the chief villain. Because when I say the phrase "psychopathic computer expert toting a shotgun," the first name that comes to mind is obviously Andrew McCarthy.

Don't get me wrong - I'm a McCarthy fan. And honestly, his near-over-the-top performance (I'll always remember a scene where he and his thugs make a huge entrance into a building, only for him to go up to the front desk and cheerfully announce to the terrified security guard, "Hi, we're here for the tour") is probably the best thing about this movie, which also involves Rutger Hauer dressing like an old college professor and a lead actress whose chief role is to get kidnapped. There's not much good in this movie, but asking Andrew McCarthy to play a cyberpunk villain? Probably the weirdest casting idea I've ever heard.

McCarthy throws himself into the madness with abandon. He gives an entertaining performance if nothing else. But he is not the type to play this role. Toting a gun, in black leather, jewelry, and a spiky haircut, he looks ridiculous. It's like he escaped off the set of Hackers. It should never happen again.

Neal McDonough, Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li (2009)

I used to say that I had never seen Neal McDonough give a bad performance. And then I saw Street Fighter. Truth be told, this is a horrendous movie - it's so bad that I didn't even add it to my collection of bad movies, because it made me too angry to ever want to watch it again - but McDonough's performance as Bison is the first time I've ever seen him miss the mark.

It should've been great. Anyone who's seen him in Boomtown or even Desperate Housewives knows that McDonough has presence and one heck of an icy stare. He's played bad guys before and done well (see Walking Tall). Except it wasn't great. He was stuck in a movie that seemed to believe staying true to its video game origins meant being campy and overdone. The dialogue did him no favors. Then add in a dubious Irish accent that seemed to come and go, and a performance that felt as if Bison was having mood swings between wooden and crazy (and maybe he was; at one point there's a bizarre ritual involving his newborn kid), and I was left shaking my head.

I can't even give him the benefit of the doubt in this case. He's one of the participants on the commentary track for the home release, and it's largely pretentious and congratulatory. At one point, he says they "made a pretty great movie." Now, obviously he's not going to come out and say, "This was the worst performance of my career," but I sincerely hope that he didn't really mean that this was a great movie. It'd scare me if he did.

Almost the entire ninth season of The X-Files (2001-2002)

There are a few TV shows that could be on this list; to me, there's nothing more heartbreaking than watching a good show go down in flames in its final season. I saw it happen with Homicide: Life on the Street and again with 24. But I'm going to give this spot to season nine of The X-Files because I had such high hopes for it that were swiftly crushed.

You see, season eight was and still is my favorite season of the show. Not that I don't also like the previous seven, but introducing an actor I've been following for most of my life as a series regular (that's Robert Patrick, obviously) makes season eight more memorable for me than the others. Gillian Anderson and Mitch Pileggi were great, and then add in plots like the shocking demise of Alex Krycek? It was a great year. It was so much fun to watch that I remember being on pins and needles, just hoping that there would be a season nine.

This is a case of "be careful what you wish for." I saw every episode in season eight; by season nine, I was tuning out just as much as I was tuning in. I don't even know where to start with it. There were truly ridiculous episodes ("Lord of the Flies"). There were bad subplots (hey, let's re-use the Mulder/Scully romance by shoehorning in a Doggett/Reyes romance). There were bad characters. I so loathed Agent Reyes that it took me years to watch Annabeth Gish in anything again. And Cary Elwes largely went to waste as her former boyfriend turned boss, Assistant Director Brad Follmer. All this leading up to a series finale that didn't really answer much, saw one character come back from the dead only to be killed off again, left the fates of some characters completely unexplained, and involved Krycek haunting Mulder as a ghost...in a bizarre green sweater.

While there were a few good episodes amongst the chaos ("John Doe," "4-D," "Release"), most of season nine was completely forgettable. And it was sad, because the show had been very good for a very long time. I'm always going to love The X-Files, but for me, the show ended with season eight. I like to remember it that way, and not with the bitterness that season nine left me with.

Still, it's not the worst thing Robert Patrick's ever done. Remember Double Dragon?

Not every performance can be brilliant, and not every project can be great. It's just common sense that sometimes, things will go horribly wrong. Sometimes, it's a funny kind of wrong; other times, it can be frustrating. Despite all of the above, I still enjoy watching the actors I've just mentioned. After all, we all screw up sometimes. Theirs is just immortalized on film.

What are some of your favorite examples of good actors meeting bad ideas? Whether it's a bad performance, a role for which they're obviously miscast, or a project going down in flames, let me hear you who you'd put on this list.

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