I don't need no introductory paragraph to know how to rock.
Character: John McClane, and Variations Thereof
Examples: The Fifth Element, The Last Boy Scout, Striking Distance, Hudson Hawk, Die Hard, Tears of the Sun
Bruce Willis is generally good at one thing: portraying an easily-relatable badass. Far be it from me to judge the guy – he’s pretty damn good at his job, after all – but Willis’ more profitable roles usually involve guns, explosions, and one-liners.
Willis’s many versions of John McClane have slight differences, of course: in The Fifth Element, McClane is blonde and slightly romantic; in The Last Boy Scout, McClane is more drunk and washed-up than usual; in Hudson Hawk, McClane is cartoony; in 16 Blocks, McClane is old and grumpy.
Granted, Willis attempted to foray into the realm of straight drama (The Story of Us, for instance), but Bruce’s career always basically comes down to his incredible ability to kick ass and take names. Even when playing a borderline-psychotic time traveler in Twelve Monkeys, he still seems like an abnormally strong, confident name-taker and/or ass-kicker.
Character: Almost Charming, Immensely Douchebaggy Sonofabitch
Examples: Good Will Hunting, Gigli, Reindeer Games, Smokin’ Aces
Relax, sit back, and I will describe one of the most satisfying moments in recent cinema history.
Smokin’ Aces. About forty minutes in. Ben Affleck and his bounty hunter buddies stop by the side of the road and discuss their plan for capturing Buddy “Aces” Israel. Suddenly, a loud, black car that looks like it may well have come from the pit of hell itself comes screaming by, heavy metal music blaring loudly. Affleck and his crew look on in curiosity as it speeds into the distance. They talk for a bit more about the plan, until the devil-car reverses, stops, and proceeds to spray Affleck and his car with machine gun fire.
That’s right – the best moment in Smokin’ Aces involves Ben Affleck getting his shit wrecked by three Neo-Nazis. And that’s even when he’s playing one of his less irritating characters.
Starting with Mallrats and progressing from there, Ben Affleck epitomizes the smarmy, almost-but-not-quite-attractive-enough-to-warrant-his-being-a-huge-asshole we’ve all met at some point in our lives. In addition to the fact that he’s far too good at playing character’s we’re supposed to despise (Shannon from Mallrats might be the best example of this), all of his characters have a smugness about them that makes him damn near impossible to like. He turned Matt Murdock into a grinning douchebag, for goodness’ sake. It takes a hell of a lot to make the Daredevil seem foppish, but Affleck was more than up to the task.
Character: Angry-Looking, Can-Do Badass
Examples: Firewall, Frantic, Witness, Air Force One
I’ll gladly admit that Ford had slightly more range as an actor earlier on in his career (instead of an angry-looking can-do badass, he was a cocky-looking can-do badass), but the inevitable grumpiness that comes about as a result of old age and a career in showbusiness has more or less reduced every single character Ford has portrayed since the 80’s to a pissed-off, thinly-veiled version of Harrison Ford himself.
Even ignoring the fact that the US would probably never elect a president as furious-looking as Ford in Air Force One, the dude even looks pissed when he’s supposed to be happy. In a film like Firewall, Ford looks like he’s ready to kill everyone in a ten mile radius – and that’s before his family is even kidnapped. Late Ford characters don’t really have much of an arc: he starts angry, angrily kills some people, and saves the people he loves, but still looks really goddamn irritated about it. For roughly three-fourths the duration of Witness, I wasn’t sure whether he was going to actually save the kid, or just string him along for a while before pushing him under the tires of a passing wagon.
To be honest, Ford’s recent attitude toward his roles will make the next Indiana Jones movie awfully fun to watch: will Ford channel his old, charming self, or will he retain his new, would-kick-you-in-the-balls-and-gouge-your-eyes-out-just-for-glancing-at-him personality, or will it be a mixture of the two?
Examples: Name of the Rose, First Knight, The Hunt for Red October, Highlander
Once voted the man with the worst fake accent in showbusiness, there’s something slightly odd about that fact that at no point in Sean Connery’s career has he even attempted to adopt the native accent of a character he has played. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a Spaniard, a Russian, or a monk: if Sean Connery is playing you, you will have a Scottish accent.
Connery’s more or less managed to get away with it considering his roles have otherwise been filled with total badassery (“It tellsh me that goosh-shtepping morons like yourselves should try reading books instead of baerning them”), but it still must be said – for such a great actor, he’s pretty damn lazy when it comes to his accents.
Character: Ricky Gervais
Examples: The Office, Extras, The Simpsons, Stardust
There’s a reason Ricky Gervais was hailed as one of the greatest actor/comedians in all of Britain following the first season of The Office: people actually thought he was acting. Another series and a few film roles later, one thing is abundantly clear: the line between David Brent the character and Ricky Gervais the actor grows ever slimmer as time passes.
Granted, Andy Milman (the protagonist of Extras) is a lot nicer and less obviously self-absorbed than Wernham-Hogg regional manager David Brent, but Gervais plays him with an almost identical amount of quiet desperation, awkwardness, and just a slight hint of self-loathing.
In fact, the Milman and Brent characters were juuuust different enough to convince many (myself included) that Gervais really does have a degree of range.
Then came Stardust.
In it, Gervais plays a slightly more talkative, slightly weirder-looking version of David Brent. From the way he mutters complaints to himself to the way he just can’t stop talking about nothing, Gervais essentially manages to once again play a slightly tweaked version of the same character he played on The Office, Extras, and the episodes of The Simpsonshe happened to write and star in.
To Gervais’s credit, though, why fix what isn’t broken? His awkward hilarity made Extras and The Office the two best BBC comedies in recent memory, and his scenes in Stardust were among the best. We may not have seen a spectacular amount of range from the guy, but that isn’t to say that what we have seen wasn’t immensely entertaining.
Character: Ditzy Blonde, Even When She Isn’t Blonde
Examples: Scary Movie 1-4, May, Just Friends
As easy as it is to point out the lowest-common-denominator banality of the Scary Movie series or how utterly forgettable Just Friends was, it still stands to reason that Anna Faris remains one of the few, if not only, consistently employed comedic actresses in Hollywood today.
Her schtick remains more or less the same throughout every film – ditzy, attractive, and stupid – but there’s an odd quality to her performance in a dramatic film like, say, May. Despite playing a slightly less unrealistic version of Cindy Campbell from the Scary Movie flicks, Faris’ performance in May serves as a great counterpoint to the awkward, borderline-autistic main character.
Honestly, I could go on for paragraphs mocking the sameness of her performances in more mainstream comedies, but two things prevent me from doing so: firstly, that she has somehow managed to remain gainfully employed in a genre of film mostly dominated by men; secondly, because the way she utters her final onscreen words in May (“I trust you…”) is chilling enough to make up for whatever complaints one might have about her lack of range.
Character: Cocky, Mildly Idiotic Hardass
Examples: The Evil Dead, Hercules/Xena, The Adventures of Brisco County Jr., Jack of All Trades
While many of the actors on this list have fallen into unfortunate typecasting situations due to a lack of studio confidence or desperation for a paycheck, Bruce Campbell seems pretty damn happy to play quirky, kickass cult heroes for the rest of his life.
Campbell acted on a soap opera in his youth, playing a typically melodramatic young man with problems related to murder, romance, or some combination of the two; perhaps unsurprisingly, he found it insanely dull. As a result, Campbell tends to intentionally favor “quirky” characters like Ash, the dumbass-badass protagonist of the Evil Dead trilogy, or Jack, the dumbass-badass protagonist of Jack of All Trades. Even when playing a character with a stated abundance of intelligence (Brisco County, the Harvard-lawyer-cum-bounty-hunter), it’s easy to picture Campbell tripping over his own shoes and falling down several flights of stairs.
Still, that’s not to suggest we’d want it any other way – Bruce Campbell may be consistent, but he’s consistently awesome. Campbell’s characters are compulsively watchable, thanks mainly to his ability to deliver one-liners with just the right amount of gusto, arrogance, and gravitas.