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Posted at 10:42 AM ET, 08/ 1/2007

Rant: When Good Stars Go Bad

By Liz Kelly

Jason Lee at the July 30 'Underdog' premiere. (Reuters)

It is a nightmarish scenario. Sitting in a movie theater, you are trapped in a polyester-covered chair, your feet gingerly brushing a sticky floor as a preview for a movie so execrably bad slowly unspools itself on screen, burning its 18-wheeler-sized vileness into your retinas. Despite the fact that you are in America, your nostrils are filled with the noxious scent of Camembert -- not from an epicure snacking close by, but from the cheese on screen. Then, just as the bile starts to settle back down your esophagus, the face of an actor you like appears. You blink, hoping you missed the transition to a new trailer, but this is only denial, pathetically trying to make the bad thing go away.

Sigh.

And so it is that this happened to me on Sunday when confronted with the uncomfortable realization that Jason Lee is indeed the star -- the human star -- of the upcoming remake of "Alvin and the Chipmunks."

Watch Jason cluck knowingly at those lovable scamps Alvin, Simon and Theodore.
Watch as Jason's inferior human intellect is outwitted by three CGI-enabled rodents.
Watch as Jason yells "ALvin!" over and over again.

Watch as I barf.

Sure, Lee named his kid "Pilot Inspektor" (a red flag), but there was a time when he was a hip indie kid who seamlessly segued from professional skateboarding to playing crush-worthy characters in Kevin Smith movies and, amidst a TV landscape littered with reality shows, turn out a respectable sitcom.

Are kid movies career suicide? No. Several fine actors have only enriched their reputations by starring in flicks aimed at children (see, for instance, Helena Bonham-Carter, Gary Oldman and every other big name star who hitched themselves to the "Harry Potter" franchise) . What is called for, though, is some judgment. "Alvin and the Chipmunks" may be a smart move financially. Kids movies -- even stinkers -- tend to continue to mint money long after leaving theatres courtesy of DVD sales (which probably explains the "Garfield" sequel.) But the stench of those stinkers can prove hard to outrun. Tread carefully, Jason. Between "Alvin" and this weekend's "Underdog," you may find yourself consigned to a mid-life career rife with spunky animal co-stars and mall promo tours.

And, because misery loves company, consider these other stars veering dangerously close to "Garfield" territory:

Steve Carrell: Went from "Daily Show" correspondent to "Office" star to quirky box office champ ("40-Year-Old Virgin," "Little Miss Sunshine"), but took a big career hit when he helmed the expensive flop "Evan Almighty. Carrell seems intent on further distancing himself from his vital early work by following Jim Carrey's lead into blasphemic territory by dumbing down yet another Dr. Seuss tale for the big screen.

Cuba Gooding Jr.: It may be too late for Gooding, who won an Oscar for his portrayal of a struggling football player in 1996's "Jerry Maguire." Let's hope someone's showing him the money for next week's "Daddy Day Camp."

By Liz Kelly  | August 1, 2007; 10:42 AM ET
Categories:  Celebrities, Miscellaneous  
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