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What Were They Thinking? Good Actors' Bad Choices

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Robin Williams used to be good, in some very good movies. For more than a decade and a half, he starred in films that were both popular and critically praised: "The World According to Garp," "The Fisher King," "Mrs. Doubtfire," "Dead Poets Society," "Good Morning, Vietnam."

But lately? Not so much. Since winning an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in "Good Will Hunting" (1997), Williams has made mostly, um, curious choices.

He still draws plenty of paychecks (he's in the horrendously reviewed "License to Wed," which opened Tuesday), but with each passing year, the projects he picks have gotten dopier, drearier and more forgettable ("RV," "The Night Listener," "The Big White," "Flubber," etc.).

Perhaps it's another curse of stardom: Your judgment gets cloudy. But whether influenced by bad advice, bad agents or good old-fashioned greed, some very talented people have appeared in some curiously bad films in the past few years. Here are others who've been busy diluting their premium brands.

-- Paul Farhi

Steve Martin

Like Williams, Martin is a comic-actor with extraordinary gifts. And like Williams, Martin has made one movie after another that has that whiff of someone who's mostly in it to bankroll the new beach house. With the exception of the self-written "Shopgirl" (2005), Martin stopped making interesting movies more than a decade ago, seemingly to concentrate full time on fluff: "Father of the Bride" (I and II), "Sgt. Bilko," "The Out-of Towners," "Bringing Down the House," "Cheaper by the Dozen." Recent career lowlight: "The Pink Panther."

Samuel L. Jackson

Jackson apparently can't go several months without appearing in a middling movie. Since co-starring in Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction" (1994) and "Jackie Brown" (1997), and, yes, the three most recent "Star Wars" films (discuss whether that's a good thing), Jackson has primarily been about quantity over quality. He's punched out almost 30 films since 2000, and has six in the pipeline, according to IMDB.com. And no, this hasn't been a good thing. Recent career lowlight: "Snakes on a Plane."

Al Pacino

Between 1972 and 1975, Pacino had one of the greatest runs ever for a film actor: The first two "Godfather" films, "Dog Day Afternoon" and "Serpico." He's had plenty of highlights since ("Scarface," "Glengarry Glen Ross," his Oscar-winning turn in "Scent of a Woman"), which makes his past decade so puzzling, with tiresome, crazed overacting in so-so fare such as "The Devil's Advocate," "Any Given Sunday," "S1mon3" and "Two for the Money." Recent career lowlight: "Gigli."

Halle Berry

Berry fought her way up through a series of thankless glamour-girl roles to prove that she can actually act (an Emmy for "Introducing Dorothy Dandridge" in 1999, an Oscar for "Monster's Ball" in 2001). And though you can't fault someone for cashing in, Berry has taken beneath-her-dignity roles in old franchises (the bad Bond "Die Another Day"), new franchises ("X-Men") and wannabe franchises ("Catwoman"). Recent lowlight: "Perfect Stranger."

Christopher Walken

Walken is like Jack Nicholson: He no longer has to play an actual character. He just has to show up and do his trademarked Walken thing. And he does -- often. Walken has been in more than 40 movies in the past decade, and a solid majority of them should have been certified "straight to video." Not that that would have stopped Walken. Recent career lowlight: "Gigli" (2003).

Morgan Freeman

Freeman has had a lock on his trademarked character: the wise, dignified older fellow who helps others with their problems -- ever since "Driving Miss Daisy" (1989). He's played it repeatedly in some good films ("Million Dollar Baby," 2004), some very popular ones ("The Shawshank Redemption") -- and loads of crummy ones, including the newly released bomb "Evan Almighty." Recent career lowlight: "Evan Almighty."

Diane Keaton

Keaton was in the top echelon of actresses in the 1970s and early '80s, starring in "Annie Hall," "Reds," "Looking for Mr. Goodbar," "Manhattan," "The Godfather" I and II and "The Little Drummer Girl." Lately, though, she's the go-to actress for playing the Lovable Older Mom ("Because I Said So," "Something's Gotta Give," those "Father of the Bride" pics). Recent career lowlight: "The Family Stone."

Jane Fonda

It's too early to suggest she's cashing in on her glorious acting legacy (two Best Actress Oscars, five nominations), but keep an eye on the Fonda fade. Since returning to film acting after a 15-year layoff, Fonda has made two wretched movies: "Monster-in-Law" and "Georgia Rule." Keep this up and people might forget "Barbarella."

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