With the release this week of Mortdecai, and the confirmation that it's as bad as the trailers suggested, it became apparent that the last person on Earth who still finds Johnny Depp's incessant mugging amusing is Johnny Depp himself.
Some filmgoers started to become weary of Depp's pantomime-ready theatrics around the time of 1999's Sleepy Hollow, but when the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie hit it big in 2003, the actor's proclivity for twee characterisations was deemed commercially friendly, and he subsequently went all out in films like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Alice In Wonderland, Dark Shadows and the Pirates sequels.
That's not to say Depp didn't do any good work during this period, but performances that may have once been welcomed by audiences as "quirky" or "offbeat" were starting to trigger irriational responses.
• Read more: Stephanie Merry: What happened to Johnny Depp?
By the time the Mortdecai trailer landed, there wasn't a filmgoer alive excited to see Depp return to this over-tapped well, and it was obvious to everyone except apparently the man who once had scissors for hands. He's credited as a producer on the film, which only strengthens the perception that the entire sorry affair was constructed to meet his specific desires, like some big elaborate game of charades staged for all the world to see.
Actors are allowed to make bad choices in their careers - evolving requires risk-taking, and not everything is always going to sing. Plus a healthy paycheck can justify a lot. But if ever there was a role that Johnny Depp should obviously have said 'No' to, it's this one. He must be aware of how tired his audience is with such shenanigans, and it would've been clearly apparent from the get-go that there is no possible universe in which this project could have emerged as any kind of creative triumph.
To mark the New Zealand release of the punishing folly that is Mortdecai, I am going to cite seven other instances of movie stars taking on roles they shouldn't have. It's not that these roles/films turned out to be failures, it's that they were clearly only ever going to be.
Tom Hanks as Sherman McCoy in Bonfire of the Vanities (1990)
A scene from Bonfire of the Vanities. Photo / Getty Images
Cinema history is loaded with hand-wringing over who should play who in certain book adaptations, and this stands as one of the most famous instances of everyone agreeing that they got it wrong. Rich, powerful businessman McCoy, the ultimate WASP, a Master of the Universe, played by the ultimate boy-next-door. It did not work. Hanks subsequently course-corrected and won two Oscars playing to his more sympathetic strengths, but the pendulum swung too far, and he later spilled over into insufferable sentimentality with films like The Terminal and Larry Crowne. He was good in Captain Phillips though.
Jim Carrey as Walter Sparrow in The Number 23 (2007)
A scene from The Number 23. Photo / New Line Cinema
Jim Carrey's shift into more dramatic roles got off to a pretty great start with films like The Truman Show, Man on the Moon and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Then he starred in this amusingly stupid conspiracy thriller, a would-be mind-bender with so many twists it appears to have been written by Charlie Kaufman's fictional hack-screenwriter "brother" Donald, played by Nicolas Cage in the 2002 film Adaptation. Putting aside the fact that it is impossible to take Carrey seriously as a tormented jazz saxophonist for even a moment, The Number 23's ridiculous conceit and po-faced execution easily shames everybody involved.
Winona Ryder as Call in Alien: Resurrection (1997)
A scene from Alien: Resurrection. Photo / Getty Images
Ryder probably had good intentions in wanting to play alongside Sigourney Weaver in badass mode, but she should've known that when it was revealed that Call is an android, her naturally mopey presence would fatally undermine the character. No robot would ever have that much need for whimpering. She's only one of many problems in the film, not least of which is the totally lame hybrid alien. Ryder doesn't always get the best choice of roles these days - seeing her as the shrew in The Dilemma was a bit depressing - although she was perfectly cast as the grand dame in Black Swan (2010). She was also kind of a hoot as a meth-head redneck moll in the Jason Statham/James Franco thriller Homefront (2013).
Marlon Brando as Carmine Sabatini in The Freshman (1990)
A scene from The Freshman. Photo / Getty Images
Outside of Orson Welles, there is no iconic Hollywood figure more associated with shameless paycheck jobs than Marlon Brando. Andrew Bergman's forgotten 1990 comedy co-starring Matthew Broderick is premised on the notion that Brando's character, an imposing New York "importer", happens to look exactly like Marlon Brando. It's a sitcom-level contrivance that the film relies upon all too heavily. Julia Roberts incited groans with a similar gambit in Ocean's Twelve (2004). Brando would later further sully his legacy playing the title role in The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996). The doctor, not the island.
John Travolta as Terl in Battlefield Earth (2000)
A scene from Battlefield Earth.
As we discussed in the comebacks blog a few weeks back, Travolta initially did a reasonably good job of sustaining his Pulp Fiction-generated heat by making some savvy role choices - namely Get Shorty and Face/Off. But the sheen came off his resurgent stardom when he cast himself as the platform shoe-wearing, dreadlocked-adorned baddie in a legendarily awful vanity adaptation of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard's 1982 sci-fi novel in which enslaved cavemen take on alien invaders. The shamelessness of the entire enterprise drips from every pore of the film, and Travolta comes off the worst, permanently relinquishing any kind of leverage going forward. This satirical music video from a few years ago was an obvious attempt to distract attention away from the lingering stink of Battlefield Earth by showing Travolta participating in something even more embarrassing.
Arnold Schwarzenegger as Rottmayer in Escape Plan (2013)
A scene from Escape Plan. Photo / Summit Entertainment
Arnie's made plenty of poor decisions in the last 10 years, and I was tempted once again to chastise him here for his crude, brand-diminishing cameos in the Expendables movies. But Escape Plan makes me angriest because of the simple fact that he plays the second lead behind former rival/theme restaurant business partner Sylvester Stallone. The Arnie I grew up worshipping would never play second banana to Rambo, and although his character was obviously beefed-up in rewrites to accommodate an actor of Arnold's stature, it still never stops feeling like sloppy seconds. In a film as crummy as Escape Plan, that's a situation that demands a retrospective 'No'.
Kevin Costner in The Postman (1997)
A scene from The Postman.
It's difficult to fathom why anyone, let alone Costner himself, would think it was a good idea to follow up the prolonged public embarrassment of the troubled post-apocalyptic adventure Waterworld with ANOTHER post-apocalyptic adventure, only with more envelopes this time. The remarkable lack of self-awareness Costner displayed in both starring in and directing this film is compounded by his hero character being the last fertile man in America. The Postman quickly became a punchline, helping to send Costner down the atypical late-career path that has resulted in some interesting films here and there. Seriously, Mr. Brooks (2007) is totally underrated.
Do you think these stars should've said no to these roles? What are some other examples? Comment below!