Every good actor has his or her own distinctive persona or “type.” It’s why we line up at theaters to watch them do their thing, whether it’s Jackie Chan using a household object to kick a bad guy’s ass, or Meryl Streep getting emotional – first angry, then sad, then strong-willed and able to overcome. Unfortunately, too much of a good thing can go wrong. It’s why we don’t leave children or my wife alone with candy, they can’t help themselves. It’s the same with actors, they want so badly to be loved and adored, they’ll just keep on doing that thing we love over and over, harder and more often until their “type” takes on a persona of it’s own. And that’s when actors turn into caricatures, taking their career into a weird, sad place. For example:
1. Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro Ben Stiller certainly has a type, bumbling and inept, with a healthy dash of awkward conservatism. It began in There’s Something About Mary, led into The Royal Tenenbaums and even Permanent Midnight, which if you haven’t seen, please do. Then there’s De Niro, a hero among actors. A man who becomes his characters, losing and gaining weight to portray them best. Raging Bull, Goodfellas, The Godfather Part II, even Jackie Brown, which I still defend as one of Tarantino’s best. The man is tough and not to be screwed with. Or at least he was. Lately, he’s become a bit of a Focker. In fact, they both have. Great actors who have become “franchise actors,” committed to a slew of movies based on one single, dirty pun. Maybe it’s not so bad for Stiller, there seems to be a lot of jobs for neurotic, nervous guys, such as museum nightshift security guard, zoo lion, and girlfriend to Polly. Not funny jobs, but jobs. But De Niro? Taking a role that makes fun of your persona is a slippery slope, and Analyze This turned out to be a runaway train downhill towards animated sharks. The man with the mohawk who used to stand in front of his mirror whipping out guns at himself is now a man in a Christmas sweater doing poop jokes holding a tiny dog. I guess the Stiller and Meara comedy team of the future is Stiller and De Niro, I can’t wait for their next masterpiece, Grandfockers. 2. Christopher Walken Speaking of De Niro, remember when he and Christopher Walken were in The Deer Hunter? The role he won an Oscar for in 1979. Probably not. Wedding Crashers and Balls of Fury is a long way from Oscar. A good litmus test to see if an actor has become a caricature of themselves is if videos of them reading things becomes popular online. For instance, have you seen Christopher Walken reading Lady Gaga’s “Pokerface”? It’s hilarious, it’s also the second thing that comes up when you Google Christopher Walken, behind him dancing in the Fatboy Slim video and in front of him reading “Three Little Pigs”. I believe Walken’s decent into caricature began as many have, on SNL, with The Continental. An awkward ladies man trying to seduce the camera. Again, hilarious, I’m not saying I’m not enjoying this portion of Walken’s career, Leslie Nielsen did the same thing, going from dramatic actor to a parody of himself, becoming one the funniest men in comedy. I just think it’s odd that lately Jay Mohr’s impression of him sounds more like Christopher Walken than Christopher Walken does.
3. Jeff Goldblum Did someone say odd speech pattern? Then we have to talk about Jeff Goldblum. He didn’t start out that weird. Watch him in The Fly, he almost sounds like a normal person. Not his “the-batteries-in-your-walkman-are-dying-while-you’re jogging” cadence he’s developed lately. Jeff Goldblum’s awkward way of speaking has become so strange that it birthed a meme, “Drunk Goldblum” where internet-ers take video of Jeff Goldblum speaking “normally” and slow it down a bit. The result, he sounds like he just chugged a case of Four Loko. How did this voice caricature begin? I blame chaos theory. That’s right, his role as Dr. Ian Malcom in Jurassic Park started Goldblum down the road of eccentric scientists with bizarre ways of speaking that continued towards Independence Day, leading straight to more Jurassic Park, then took a hard left at Cats and Dogs, never looking back. Now all his characters, even his TV show detectives (“Law & Order: Criminal Intent”) and morning show producers (Morning Glory) speak like someone is in his windpipe slamming on the breaks and gas. I just hope he never has to play a speech therapist.
4. Al Pacino At some point Al Pacino went from having an amazing and subtle range of emotions to having only two, normal volume and screaming. I don’t remember Michael Corleone in “The Godfather” yelling random words in his sentences. This is what a transcript looks like of current day Al Pacino speaking. “HELLO! My NAME is Al Pacino and I AM an actor…IN FILMS!!!” Sometimes I wonder if Pacino is just bored with acting, so to make it interesting he has decided to constantly screw with the sound guy, making his life a living hell quickly adjusting knobs with no notice, having to turn up the headphones then having his ears blown out suddenly. And I can tell you the exact moment Pacino decided to screw with his soundman. The year was 1995, the movie was, and still is, Heat. The line: “She had a GRRREAT ASS!” I don’t know why this character wanted to shout “great ass,” but as soon as he did Al Pacino went from amazing actor to a caricature of himself. I am sure it will only get worse, screaming himself hoarse for half of a sentence and whispering for the other half. In the future I bet TV remotes will come with an “Al Pacino” setting that quickly turns the volume up and down as he speaks, making him sound almost normal.
5. Gary Busey You guys, Gary Busy is crazy! Right? Or is it just a character? I can’t really tell. The weirdest part of Gary Busey turning into this bizarre tornado of new-age B.S. and intense violence is that it began when he started playing himself. Was he that strange in Lethal Weapon, or Point Break or Rookie of the Year? Maybe, but I certainly wasn’t scared to see him on the street after those films, I would have definitely asked for his autograph. Now, I would cross the street out of fear if I saw him coming. His new life as a caricature began with I’m with Busey, in 2003. A reality show on Comedy Central where writer Adam de la Pena hung out with Gary Busey and learned about the world. The insane world inside the mind of Busey. Gary went on to push his new attitude on VH1’s Celebrity Fit Club until it became its own character on Entourage. Currently, he can be seen on Conan being chased around by the giant orange Conan blimp. The blimp flies over Busey’s house and he screams at it, sometimes with his mouth full of a sandwich, sometimes not. One night my wife asked me, “How real do you think that is?” I had no idea. Someday, we may look back and put Gary Busey in the same genius category as Andy Kaufman, but until that day, he’s just another crazy guy from reality TV.
6. Julia Roberts Yeah, that’s right, Julia Roberts. The soul that used to be behind her eyes has left and gone south, towards the only thing that matters anymore, that mouth. Eat, Pray, Love, Valentine’s Day, Duplicity. They all hinge on one thing, Julia Roberts flashing off her giant horse-mouth smile with a city full of bright white teeth and laughing like she’s having the time of her life. “Ohhh, can you believe what amazing things are happening in my wonderful life I’m living!? I’m laughing and living my joyous life! Don’t you wish you were there, right now? Smiling and laughing with me!?” I doubt it, because in real life I bet that mouth looks like more like a cavern or a black hole you might get sucked into and that piercing laugh might shatter your eyeballs. Ironically, the film that started all this smiling instead of acting is right there in the title, Mona Lisa Smile. I see no resemblance. As time goes on I assume Julia Roberts won’t have any lines in her movies, she’ll just be put into more and more joyous situations by sexy, fun-loving men and best friends for her to cackle at so my wife can say “See? Why can’t we have fun like that!”
7. Denzel Washington “A man with burning hot intensity, street smarts who is tellin’ youngins how it’s done.” That could be the description for every Denzel Washington movie in the past ten years. Be on it on a train (The Taking of Pelham 1,2,3, Unstoppable,) behind a podium (The Great Debaters) or back in time (American Gangster/Déjà Vu) this man is going to scream in your face and teach you a lesson, son! The interesting thing about this caricature is it’s not just Denzel alone; it’s the camera too. I don’t think I could recognize Denzel without his entire face filling the movie screen as the background whizzed by before cutting to an explosion. In fact, I’m not convinced he has an entire body. And as Denzel does more films his rookie partner he has to teach lessons to will have to get younger and younger until every Denzel Washington movie will be only his face screaming at a baby teaching it how read or speak or crawl while the crib speeds out of control and explodes. Exciting!
8. Nicolas Cage If Nicolas Cage’s voice gets any deeper and raspier we are going to have to listen to all his movies with special headphones adjusted for maximum bass. As a caricature, I don’t know if I can exactly explain what Nicolas Cage has turned into over the years, it feels not quite from this Earth. He’s slimy, but tough. Smarmy, yet awkward. Uncomfortable, yet confident. I’m not even sure if he’s actually a caricature, all I’m sure of is that he is no longer a normal man. He’s weird. We can’t blame him, though, it’s not his fault. Nicolas Cage was put through something that no man should have to bear. Something that no one can be considered “normal” if they survive. He was the star of the three most cheesiest/intense action films that ever took themselves too seriously, in a row. The Rock, Con Air, and Face/Off. How can we as a society force one of our own to spend two years of their life submerged in one-liners, gunshots surrounded by doves, running from balls of flames, men screaming into the sky, random boat chases, forced emotional bonds and pretending to be John Travolta and come out the other end sane. It can’t be done. We should expect nothing else from Nicolas Cage besides making Ghost Rider sequels and doing a live action remake of Mickey Mouse’s, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, where he is defending New York City from an evil sorcerer for some insane and inane reason. I say, go forth and God bless Nicolas Cage, keep making your creepy bizarre movies, we’ll be here waiting for you when you want to get better.
9. Tim Burton No, he’s not an actor, but Tim Burton has absolutely become a caricature. Everything Tim Burton puts his hands on turns into a children’s nightmare version of it. At one point in the past I believe Tim Burton could direct a script in a way that best showed off that story, but no longer is that possible. It all must turn into a mush of horrifying, hallucinatory images from childhood. At first it was cute, I still love Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure and The Nightmare Before Christmas. They were childlike in a different way that was new and fun, but now his movies are like a child who used to do a silly dance for grandma and grandpa, but grandma and grandpa have since passed away and the kid still insists on wearing his sailor outfit and doing the dance. And it’s really creepy. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory creepy. We didn’t need a Corpse Bride kids movie, or a darker version of Sweeney Todd and we absolutely didn’t need a version of Alice in Wonderland that included a mini-Helena Bonham Carter with a head blown up like a balloon. So, if you really care about me, gentle reader, and yourselves and your children and want to continue to have pleasant dreams that will never be tainted, we need to band together. We need to keep Tim Burton away from children’s books. Whatever it takes, steal his library card, don’t let him into any bookstores because I don’t think I could handle Johnny Depp dressed up as a freakish Harold running around with a giant purple crayon in Burton land.