“John Carter,” the mega-massive adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s sci-fi Civil War story, opens in theaters tomorrow, with Kitsch in his first major lead role as the film’s often shirtless, sword-wielding protagonist.
In advance of “Carter’s” release, Vulture has already dubbed him one of nine actors who could break out big in 2012. A Guardian profile implies that he could be the real-life version of Ryan Gosling’s character in “The Notebook.” Which isn’t the same thing as saying he’s the next Ryan Gosling, but it’s close enough to make a reader attempt to connect the dots.
But does Kitsch have what it takes to become a major movie star? And is “John Carter” the film to catapult him into that position?
Let’s answer that second question first. Even if “John Carter” becomes a major success at the weekend box office despite its less-than-positive projections, this film alone won’t turn Kitsch into Hollywood’s new It Boy.
Even though the desert-set story gives him ample opportunity to show off his abs, the film also saddles him with dialogue that forces him to spout mumbo jumbo about Barsoom (that’s the “John Carter”-universe name for Mars), Helium (a city on Barsoom) and Iss (a river on Barsoom). Granted, all of that language is taken from the original text by Burroughs. But coupled with the muddled mess of action scenes, none of it does any favors for Kitsch, who is already taking some of the blame for the movie’s shortcomings from at least one critic. (Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune writes that “at the center of this picture is a flat, inexpressive protagonist played by a flat, inexpressive actor.”)
Here’s the problem for Kitsch: What made him so wonderful on “Friday Night Lights” — and so right for a TV show committed to revealing authentic, relatable moments — was his lack of showiness. That low-key sense of subtlety worked perfectly for Tim Riggins. And it also worked well in “The Bang Bang Club,” an indie in which he co-starred alongside Ryan Phillippe, coincidentally as a character who also possessed the last name Carter.
But in a movie like “John Carter,” in which next to nothing is subtle, it doesn’t translate. Perhaps Kitsch’s next two films — “Battleship,” another non-subtle action flick, but one that puts him back in the hands of his “Friday Night Lights” buddy and director Peter Berg, and the Oliver Stone film “Savages” — will be better vehicles for him. They certainly will tell us something important about Kitsch: whether he has range.
In the meantime, I’d also like to recommend some potential next career moves for Kitsch, ones that could save him if both “John Carter” and “Battleship” are mega-flops.
Play the lead in an indie rom-com: Kitsch should not sign on for some standard-issue Hollywood romance, even if a Nicholas Sparks adaptation would tap into his apparent alliance with “The Notebook.” I’d rather see him in something that gives him the space to inhabit a character again and demonstrate some vulnerability, something of the “Before Sunrise” or “Like Crazy” variety. His swoonability potential is high; he should put it to good use in a credible project.
Take a part, even if it’s small, in a Judd Apatow comedy: I can see him playing a laid-back straight man to, say, a Jason Segel or a Seth Rogen. Riggins wasn’t just hot, y’all — he was often pretty hilarious.
Do an action film of better quality than “John Carter”: Kitsch is already signed on for yet another movie with Berg, one about Navy SEALs that pairs him with Mark Wahlberg and Ben Foster. So he’s already taken a step forward in the right direction on this count.
Sign on to the “Friday Night Lights” movie: If it happens, which is still not 100 percent, Kitsch should strongly consider making at least a brief appearance as Riggins. He recently told Collider that he’s happy with the way he left the character in the show’s season finale and isn’t even sure that a bit part would make sense in the context of where the script is headed. But come on. Even if Kitsch turns into an official Big Deal, he’d be wise to reinhabit the character who thrust him into the big leagues in the first place.