Star-studded casts don’t always make the cut

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April 4, 2008

3:24 AM

I have a serious confession to make: I could snap at any moment.

If I see one more report on the evening news about Lindsey Lohan’s latest crack-binge or Brad and Angelina’s relationship secrets, I can’t be responsible for the inhuman rage that will drive me to destroy Tinseltown once and for all. It seems like the media bows down before the socially dysfunctional elite like they’re modern-day Greek gods walking among us. Why do we allow this, when undiscovered actors are as engaging and talented as those atop the mountain? They can’t be any crazier than the current batch, either.

What really irks me is that A-list celebrities aren’t remotely a requirement for celluloid success, whether the medium is the small or the silver screen. A lot of TV shows and films are fine without a superstar among their ranks and a great many of them are better for it.

Take “Batman Begins,” for example. In what many call the best Batman movie, Christian Bale rose from almost complete obscurity to become one of the most sought-after actors in Hollywood. He played his part spectacularly, but his performance was well-received in part because of having a fresh face. The last few Batman films were mega flops, and whether you blame it on ubiquitous bat-nipples or not, someone new was needed to revive the dark knight. Putting a new face to a failing series can really help to wash away that stale taste you get when you realize they’re making another sequel to a franchise that should have ended years ago.

Another well-cast film without any star power is J.J. Abrams’ “Cloverfield,” Earlier this year, the monster masterpiece ripped a chunk out of the box office without the help of a single headlining actor, human or otherwise. If you’ve seen the film, you know part of its draw is the believability of its characters — all played by big-screen newbies — and the way they react to a terrifying monster attack. The film worked because at no point were the protagonists fighting to defend humanity; they were average Joes and Janes, scared out of their wits and looking out for number one. Casting Tom Cruise or Alec Baldwin, who I really respect as actors, would have completely negated the authentic experience and turned it into just another lame monster movie.

“Lost” is a perfect example of a television show succeeding for the same kind of reasons. The motley castaways wouldn’t be nearly as engaging with a smiling Matt Damon among their ranks. A definite plus exclusive to television shows is that almost all of the actors have proven their chops but never had a breakthrough role. The payoff is that the cast isn’t nearly as difficult to retain for the duration of the program. You could never make a six-year contract with a big-name star unless he were the main character. A show like “Lost” — with tons of interweaving storylines and a spotlight that changes faster than a shy adolescent in the locker room before gym class — could never have an undisputed lead.
Despite the obvious benefits to a humble cast, some people make viewing choices solely on whether a film is well-stocked with their favorite film veterans. Truly the television gods have played a cruel hand, tricking so many. Even the greatest actors of our day aren’t guaranteed to deliver quality. Tom Hanks might be the nicest guy in Hollywood, but he could drive anyone to anger with his involvement in the Coen brothers’ failure, “The Ladykillers.” Even Johnny Depp, arguably the most adventurous star in the business, has overstepped his bounds more than once with “Nick of Time,” “Secret Window” and “Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare.”

I’m not trying to player-hate on tried-and-true actors; I know it’s not their fault they’ve reached Olympian status. Having an elite group of superstars is the symptom of a greater problem in film today. There’s a shortage of original material and studios are churning out the same recycled plots and stories. Many critics called 2007 “the year of the sequel,” due to the mammoth number of re-hashes and comebacks that littered the scene.
The bottom line is, it’s nice to see the movie studios mix things up every now and then. Realistically, I know it’s hopeless to pine away for a day when Britney-watch is no more. We’ll always have our share of over-hyped divas making asses out of themselves for their 15 minutes, so there’s no point in calling for an all-out revolution against the thespian upper-class. Not yet, anyway. Until that day, stay strong, revolutionaries.

__Mathew Falwell is a Critical Condtion Columnist. He owns every movie featuring Brangelina.__

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