There are lots of bad actors floating around Hollywood (so many… ) and lots of those bad actors manage to become stars despite lacking any sort of talent (Hey, Ashton Kutcher, how’s it going?) but occasionally a bad actor will rise above his station in life and actually bring the goods. Sometimes it’s just a matter of the actor finding the one role that actually fits his wooden personality. Sometimes it’s because the actor makes a deal with the devil and shocks everyone with a killer performance before going back to being a turd. It happens. So without further ado, an article that is sure to get me yelled at because you kids love getting pissed off and yelling about your movie opinions, here are 8 lousy actors who had one good performance.
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Before True Lies, Tom Arnold was just that talentless hack who held his nose long enough to plunge into the abyss known as Roseanne Barr. After True Lies, Tom Arnold was just known as that talentless hack who used to bang Roseanne and who hosted really crappy sports shows. But there was a sliver of time following the release of True Lies when people actually thought the impossible had happened and that we were all wrong about all that talentless hack stuff. And that’s because in a miracle to rival anything that Jesus dude pulled off in the Bible, Tom Arnold was actually really, really good in True Lies. The dude stole the show. He killed it. He got up on the big screen as a highly trained spy in a big budget action smash hit and actually pulled it off! Tom Arnold! In the 18 years since then, Tom has appeared in 101 different movies or TV shows (Yeah, I actually counted. I’m a professional, after all.) and they have all been variations on the same theme: crap. I don’t know what happened on the set of True Lies. Maybe he was temporarily replaced by an alien replicant or something. Who knows?
Mark Wahlberg is a terrible actor. He is. I know people will argue with me about this but the dude only has two emotions he can display on screen: he’s either so wooden and bland that it feels like he’s actually reading off of cue cards or he’s slobbering all over himself, raging in a psychotic mania that makes you think the director just strangled his favorite puppy on the other side of the camera. But somehow that managed to work in Boogie Nights. It was serendipitous, a genuine case of the perfect role for the perfect actor. No one else could have pulled off Dirk Diggler in that movie because Mark Wahlberg was Dirk Diggler. The character is stupid, overly emotional and completely ridiculous. Dirk vacillates between out of his depth, open mouthed dazed wonder at the twists and turns in his life and full on delusional hysteria. One minute he’s staring wide eyed while a naked girl in roller skates parades around and then offers to blow him and the next he’s berating Burt Reynolds and screaming “You’re not the boss of me!” like a 9 year old throwing a world class temper tantrum. I have a theory that Marky Mark didn’t even know he was acting. They just blindfolded him, threw him on set and told him to be himself. It worked.
This is another case of a lousy actor managing to fall ass first into a role that’s perfect for him. Chris Klein’s character in Election is dopey, overly-earnest, and kind of dumb. He’s a fresh-faced jock who tries really, really hard to be more than he is but in the end he’s really just kind of a gumpy good looking nice guy who will do okay in life because, well, the world loves gumpy good-looking nice guys. And Chris Klein nailed it because that’s pretty much the only thing that Chris Klein can do. He played a variation on the same character in American Pie. And since then? Nothing. He tricked people into thinking he was a good actor with Election because he was allowed to play the only role that came naturally to him. There’s a reason his career has faded into oblivion and it’s because he can’t do anything else and he’s too old to play that dopey high schooler yearning for more. Oh well, at least he parlayed it into banging Katie Holmes for a while, back when she was still Katie Holmes and not the zombie bride of Xenu.
Believe it or not, there was a time when Jennifer Lopez was more than just a desperate fame-whore, clinging to the life-raft of relevancy while peddling auto-tuned dreck and the site of her ass stuffed into a bikini. And that’s because back in 1998 she teamed up opposite George Clooney in the ultra-cool Out of Sight and convinced everybody that she had a future as a smart, sexy leading lady who could hold her own in a cast that included Clooney, Ving Rhames, Don Cheadle, Steve Zahn, Albert Brooks and a whole host of first-class character actors. It was her big test, the movie that would tell whether she would be the real deal or just another pretty face and she nailed it. She then parlayed that into the whole “J-Lo” persona and went on to make a string of shitty movies and even shittier albums and found herself living in one of the biggest houses on Tabloid Alley. I think she wanted to be rich and famous more than she wanted to actually be good at anything, and it’s a shame because Out of Sight showed she could have been good.
Paul Walker is best known for his sub-Keanu level acting in the Fast and the Furious movies and for good reason – the dude is terrible. He can barely deliver a line and his career consists of one cringe-worthy performance after another. Except for one. In Running Scared, Paul Walker actually managed to pull it together long enough to deliver a strong performance as a hoodlum/undercover cop/terrified father. I don’t know what happened. I mean, it’s not that far removed from his Fast and the Furious role. But he pulls it off here in a way that is miles beyond anything he managed there. I remember watching Running Scared and actually thinking about halfway through “Holy shit, Paul Walker is actually pretty damn good in this.” That’s pretty much the definition of the sort of role that belongs on this list, right? It was something nobody saw coming and then when it was over, it never happened again. It’s a freak occurrence, a once in a lifetime thing, like winning the lottery or having a three way with Angela Lansbury and Betty White.
Kate Hudson was supposed to be Hollywood’s next It Girl and for good reason. Following her Academy Award nominated role as a groupie in Almost Famous she had people convinced she was poised for bigger and better things. She was alluring, she was funny, she was complicated and she seemed like she was capable of doing anything. Since then, she’s made a career out of starring in hilariously shitty romantic comedies opposite acting titans like Matthew McConaughey and, ugh, Dane Cook. Look, the Dane Cook thing is about as damning a piece of evidence as you can get that this chick’s career went careening way off the tracks a long time ago. But Dane Cook aside, she’s never come close to matching her performance in Almost Famous and today the idea of her being nominated for an Academy Award is as absurd as it is hilarious. Oh well, there’s always The Skeleton Key II to look forward to.
Yeah, that’s right – Channing Tatum. I don’t think anyone’s going to argue that this dude, well, that he’s hilariously awful as an actor. The shocking part is that he actually was good enough in a movie to even appear on this list. Even more shocking is that in A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, a low budget flick starring Robert Downey, Jr., Tatum is not only decent, he’s shockingly great. Playing the younger version of one of Downey’s friends (most of the movie is told through flashback), Tatum is menacing, brooding and out of control, playing the doomed street urchin, the rebel with no place to go so well that some critics actually compared him to a young Marlon Brando. Read that again. A young Marlon Brando! Channing Tatum! And the scariest part is that they were actually right. He was awesome. I have no idea what happened. Maybe he really was possessed by Brando’s ghost or maybe he summoned every single shred of ability he had just to play that one part and then when it was done he had nothing left. I don’t know. But what I do know is that this one is probably the most miraculous entry on this list.
Your first instinct might be to argue with me here, but really, outside of Pulp Fiction, what the hell has John Travolta ever really done? I know a bunch of you are falling all over yourselves to list off his iconic early roles, but honestly, that was the sort of shit that Zac Efron would be doing if they made them today and deep down you all know it. Travolta playing singing and dancing variations on his character from Welcome Back Kotter aren’t going to convince me that he’s anything other than a buffoon. But in Pulp Fiction, well, John Travolta actually brings a little bit of pathos to that role, playing a past his prime hitman who’s, yes, a bit of a buffoon, but he knows it and is just trying to get by and get through life without screwing up any more than he has to. And Travolta captures it perfectly. It’s really the only sort of role he can play. In everything else, he’s just staring with open mouth and dull, cow eyes and it’s almost always laughably bad. Occasionally, he mixes it up and plays a bad guy, but it’s always so cartoonishly over the top that it soon veers into the realm of the ridiculous. But for one performance, one glorious performance, Travolta actually was what everyone thinks he is: a star. And that’s why he’s number one on this list.
(Originally published on March 23, 2012.)