I am a little worried for Will Smith.
Well, not worried in the strictest definition, but worried in the way an entertainment writer worries for extremely wealthy international movie stars who haven’t had a hit in a while.
Mr. Smith is currently attempting to rectify that matter by starring in “Men in Black 3,” his first film in four years and the third installment in the series about secret agents attempting to keep evil extra-terrestrials at (non-Michael) bay. Given the public’s appetite for big, effects-driven blockbusters and its powerlessness to resist sequels, it seems fair to assume that “MIB 3” will cross the $100 million box office threshold without too much trouble. But will that be an indicator that Smith, still one of the world’s most well-known actors, possesses the same appeal he once had? Or are Smith’s marquee powers beginning to wane?
Smith, now 43, has long been one of those guys that pretty much everyone likes. Sure, he’s a little arrogant. And as a rapper, he always played his rhymes incredibly safe. Declaring that “Parents Just Don’t Understand” was as close as our Fresh Prince ever got to fighting the power. (The ultimate crushing blow circa 1988: realizing your parents really liked the song “Parents Just Don’t Understand.”)
But as he developed into a commanding big-screen presence, jumping from blow-’em-up-blockbuster fare like “Bad Boys” and “Independence Day” to Academy Award-nominated performances in “Ali” and “The Pursuit of Happyness,” Smith seemed to maintain both industry respect and the admiration of a public willing to plunk down cash for almost any movie that had the Will Smith name attached to it. Even “Wild Wild West,” a steampunk train wreck universally deemed terrible, grossed more than $200 million worldwide. And that was considered a box office failure. After all, it was a Will Smith movie, and therefore a higher level of success was expected.
Smith’s reputation as one of the good guys was also aided by his personal life. His marriage to Jada Pinkett-Smith — a Hollywood union between a Philly native and a girl from Baltimore — appeared to be solid, and their focus on their kids seemed healthy .
During recent years, though, that reputation took some knocks. As he focused his efforts on producing as well as grooming offspring Willow and Jaden for careers in the entertainment industry, he and his wife were sometimes criticized by those who wondered whether they were pushing their kids too hard or allowing them to grow up too fast. Stories last year about the bloated size of his tricked-out trailer on the “Men in Black 3” set made him seem like the ultimate egomaniac.
Then last summer, rumors bubbled forth that Smith and Pinkett-Smith were on the verge of divorce, a story the couple swiftly squashed by releasing a statement that said their marriage was “intact.” Smith recently refuted those rumors again in an “Access Hollywood” interview, calling himself “indestructible” when it comes to the tabloid press. “You hurt yourself stabbing me,” he told Shawn Robinson.
Or you hurt yourself by trying to kiss Smith, a truth that emerged when Smith recently slapped (albeit lightly) a reporter on a red carpet after the guy tried to plant one on him. “Will Smith ATTACKS Kissy Reporter,” said the hyperbolic headline from TMZ, which posted video of the incident that quickly went viral. Some accused Smith of being a homophobe, others said he was absolutely right to respond in that manner and journalism professors around the globe made a note to remind their students that kissing is not part of the interview process.
Yet despite the less-than-positive headlines, it would appear that Smith is still generally embraced by the public. The question is whether that affection — affection of the non-kissy kind — is strong enough to translate into movie ticket sales for the long haul.
As Will Leitch recently noted on Gawker, Smith’s upcoming slate of projects suggests that the action hero is eager to reestablish himself as the MVP in the movie blockbuster big leagues.
Those projects include an M Night Shyamalan sci-fi flick (in which he co-stars with son Jaden) and more sequels: “Hancock 2,” “I, Robot 2” and “Bad Boys 3.” These seem like acts of less-than-quiet desperation that Smith doesn’t need to resort to reestablish his relevancy. Unless, of course, he’s concerned that he might no longer be relevant.
How do you feel about Will Smith, Movie Star? Are you still eager to see him do his affably cocky swagger thing in “Men in Black 3”and in future projects? Or have you lost interest?
Please post a comment or vote in the highly scientific (cough) poll below, the results of which will undoubtedly determine Smith’s career path (a-HEM, seriously, excuse me) from this moment forward.