There are two movies set for release this winter (one out now, one forthcoming) that piqued my interest. The first is about a conspiracy theorist who believes the mysteries of life can be explained by the number 23. The second is a story of a man who loses his family in the Sept. 11 attacks and must now rely on his college roommate to help him grieve (or, rather, not to grieve).
What’s the common denominator? “The Number 23” stars Jim Carrey, the man who crawled out of a rhino’s ass in “Ace Venture: When Nature Calls,” while the starring role in “Reign Over Me” is filled by Adam Sandler, who headbutted Bob Barker in “Happy Gilmore.”
Sometimes such actors want to shatter perceptions of themselves by branching out into a role completely different than what you’ve come to expect from them. Jim Carey has already failed (“The Majestic”) and succeeded (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”) in his dramatic attempts thus far, and his performance in “23” has met with mixed reviews at best. This is Sandler’s first attempt since “Punch Drunk Love” to be in a film where absolutely no one gets hit in the balls, so “Reign” looks to be a welcome change, at least in theory.
In truth there is any number of actors just begging that you not laugh when they appear in a movie, each with varying degrees of success. We’ve seen that Ryan Reynolds wants to be America’s next action hero with roles in “Blade: Trinity” and “Smokin’ Aces.” He’s not bad, but after every line he says, I’m still waiting for him to add “write that down,” because no matter how hard he tries, he’ll always be Van Wilder to me. Ashton Kutcher tried desperately to emulate a young Tom Cruise in “Top Gun” when he starred in “The Guardian” last fall, but he should clearly stick to producing “Beauty and the Geek” and regretting his life choices as he watches his wife’s hotness slowly slip away.
The need to be taken seriously has officially become an epidemic if we are to take recent trailers at face value, including one showing Dane Cook in a role as a blackmailing photographer in the upcoming Kevin Costner thriller “Mr. Brooks.” That’s correct: The man who brought phone sex to the Burger King drive-thru is in a serious cinematic adventure of his very own. I imagine watching Dane Cook attempt the role of a dramatic actor is going to be something like watching a snake that dreams of tap dancing. It just doesn’t seem like it’s going to work out.
But sometimes this need for a perception-changing “breakout” role manifests itself in exceptionally strange ways. By now you’ve all seen the publicity photos of Daniel Radcliffe, or as you know him, Harry Potter, where he appears naked, hairy and longingly embracing a horse. He’s taken it upon himself to star in a play where he literally sheds his wizard robes on stage to try and prove to everyone that yes, he has become a man. It might be annoying having people call you “Harry Potter” every time you walk down the street, but it’s got to be better than hearing “Hey, was it cold in there or what?”
Being taken seriously isn’t limited to comedians or typecast children. Many musicians seem like they have something to prove these days. Did you know that in the span of about a year, Justin Timberlake will have been in four movies? Seriously, IMDb it. But the craziest part is that he’s not even that bad. He was the only redeeming part of “Alpha Dog,” and his U.S. soldier in “Black Snake Moan” is a fine take on a thin role. Can you imagine if he had married Britney way back when? He’d probably be in his underwear, living in a trailer and cooking crystal meth. Justin really has been a pleasant surprise as an actor after a string of musicians like Ice Cube and Usher have failed us before. (To be fair, Ja Rule really did speak to my heart in “The Fast and the Furious.”)
More often than not I’d rather watch Adam Sandler get kicked in the balls than mourn his dead family, and it’s hard to watch Jim Carrey philosophize about life when I’m picturing him tiptoeing around in a furry green Grinch suit. I think the general rule is to stick with what you know and you’ll see the best results. Ryan Reynolds, take note. But actors believing they have more to give will keep trying to show their range, and we’ll keep giving them chances. Except when it comes to boy wizards waving their wands around. Hell no.
– Tassi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.