10) Leonardo Dicaprio: Body of Lies – America’s greatest modern leading man has had a few pictures you could consider here. Some may site The Quick and the Dead (oddly, also starring Russell Crowe) but I enjoy the camp quality. Others may point to The Beach, his Titanic follow up, but I have a soft spot for that film. Even though it is uneven, there are redeeming aspects. But Body of Lies, on the other hand, has nothing really. Ridley Scott’s spy thriller has all the weight of NCIS set in Afghanistan. Right in the midst of Dicaprio’s recent run of successful pictures, he teams up with Crowe and Ridley Scott (who appears to really be struggling lately) and makes a movie that nobody really cares about. I couldn’t even begin to explain the plot back to you even though I’ve seen it. Dicaprio is clearly just killing time here.
9) Tom Cruise: Lions for Lambs – Say what you will about Cruise, he is one of the finest American movie stars who has also managed to make some seriously great pictures along the way. A few people may call the strange mid-80s fantasy film Legend his worst, but I think we should give Ridley Scott a break for now. Besides, Legend at least was entertaining. Lions for Lambs, on the other hand, was like watching famous people teach a college course on ethics. No matter who is teaching it, it’s pretty dull for the most part. Cruise plays part of a larger ensemble, a smarmy Republican senator with his eye on the presidency and an excuse for every argument against the war in the Middle East thrown at him by a journalist (Meryl Streep). This is one part where Cruise could not shed his star persona, and I don’t think it helped that his character was so despicable.
8) Tom Hanks: The Da Vinci Code – Stay away from Joe vs. The Volcano. Keep your hands off The ‘Burbs (seriously, I love The ‘Burbs). Let’s consider ambition and expectations here too. The Da Vinci Code was one of the biggest potboiler novels of all time, and was written with the soul intention of becoming a movie. So Ron Howard attaches himself to the movie, then goes out and gets Tom Hanks, the infallible (at the time) Tom Hanks, to play the hero Robert Langdon. Everything seems to be in place to make a superior thriller. But, alas, what comes out is a boring chase film. You see, in Dan Brown’s book he had the ability to explain things in long expository passages in between the action. In the film, these long passages still happened but the actors explained them and the result was long and tedious. And the action was repetitive. And the whole thing was too long and too dull to care about. I think maybe Angels & Demons was worse, but I couldn’t bring myself to watch it.
7) Denzel Washington: John Q – Denzel has had a fairly solid career for the most part. I know most would point to maybe Ricochet as his worst film, but come on. That movie is so bad it’s actually good. And Denzel had a few cop-on-the-run pictures there in the early 2000s that were mostly forgettable. But his worst film has to be John Q., a poor attempt at dramatic social commentary full of characters so idiotic they must only exist in cinema. Denzel plays a factory worker whose son suddenly collapses and needs a heart transplant, only Denzel’s character can’t afford the operation and after exhausting every option takes hostages at the hospital. This tired story is complete with sympathetic cop, grandstanding trigger-happy cop, evil doctor, and social mash up of hostages. Nothing more than the poor man’s version of Dog Day Afternoon.
6) Jack Nicholson: Man Trouble – Jack, like Denzel, has been fairly consistent over his career. It’s tough to find his worst film. There was Wolf, which was pretty terrible, and there was The Bucket List, but my grandmother liked it and I think that’s the idea. But does anyone remember Man Trouble? Yeah, didn’t think so. This sleazy pulp novel comedy is such a disaster it’s almost quite funny. Nicholson stars alongside Ellen Barkin as a guard dog trainer blackmailed into stealing a manuscript for a tell-all book for… oh it doesn’t matter. Why is it in these Elmore Leonard rip-offs the characters always have to have some quirky job? And Jack Nicholson with a moustache is not a good indicator either. What is even more surprising is the film is directed by Bob Rafelson, the star behind the camera of films like Five Easy Pieces and The Postman Always Rings Twice.
5) Paul Newman: Twilight – No, no. Pick your jaw up off the floor. Newman was never in the shitty vampire franchise before passing away. This is the original Twilight, a forgettable noir about double crosses and adulteresses and… other stuff. It was really hard to spot a bad picture in Newman’s filmography, which is why Twilight caught my eye so easily. The whole plot revolves around Newman’s ex-cop character living with a dying man (Gene Hackman) and getting entangled into a 20-year old murder case and blackmail and… other stuff. Nothing is memorable here, not even Newman who looks quite bored throughout the proceedings. And again, this is from talented director Robert Benton (Kramer vs. Kramer, Nobody’s Fool, Places in the Heart) who, unfortunately, is responsible for this next disaster as well.
4) Dustin Hoffman: Billy Bathgate – Hoffman is another actor with a pretty spotless career, but in the early nineties he signed on to play gangster Dutch Schultz in Billy Bathgate. I know a lot of you are saying “Um… wtf is Billy Bathgate?” Well it’s a gangster picture told in the same arc narrative as Goodfellas, only without anything near as interesting as Scorsese’s masterpiece. Young gopher for the mob in the 20s makes his way up to a foot soldier, and so on and so forth. But what is missing here is any interesting characters or plotline. Hoffman’s Dutch Schultz is supposed to be this big time gangster, but he never seems threatening or powerful or overly wealthy or really very interested in being in this movie. This is the dullest, drabbest gangster picture I have ever seen, and Hoffman acts like he is slumming, or like he knows he is in a crappy movie.
3) Gene Hackman: Heartbreakers – Again, Gene Hackman has been fairly solid over the span of his long and storied career. He is one of the best in my humble opinion. Sure, there as The Package or Loose Cannons, two mediocre action films, but nothing comes close to Heartbreakers. This story about a pair of grafters conning an older gentleman is a forgettable, idiotic mess of a picture. The first indication of poor quality is the fact that Jennifer Love Hewitt stars alongside Hackman and Sigourney Weaver, who is also better than this. This is one of those dumpy comedies that gets run on a loop on TBS some Saturday afternoon in February, a film that is annoying from the get go and never gets any better. Hackman must have been bored when he signed on to this one.
2) Marlon Brando: The Island of Dr. Moreau – These last two films are so utterly terrible they could be interchanged depending on your mood at the time. Most good actors work their way through some bad films early in their career before they find their groove. Brando, on the other hand, worked in reverse. One of the weirdest guys to ever come out of Hollywood and one of the biggest assholes in film history, Brando hit the ground running and starred in some of the best films of all time. But then, after some personal tragedies and a lot of extra weight, things got weird for Brando. But no matter how weird they got, they all seemed normal after he starred in The Island of Dr. Moreau. Brando plays Dr. Moreau as the weirdest of weird cats, appearing covered in white powder because of a sun allergy. This incomprehensible disaster of a film, made even more confusing every time Brando appears, is so confusing and idiotic it is physically impossible for me to understand who thought it was a good idea.
1) Sean Penn: U-Turn – Sean Penn is the most “recent” great actor. He starred in his fair share of mediocrity in the 80s, but they were harmless pictures with decent performances and stories nonetheless. These days, it seems that everything he touches turns to gold, in regards to his performance anyway. But in the late 90s Penn would star in Oliver Stone’s U-Turn. Now, if you want to have a contest to see which of these last two films is more incomprehensible, U-Turn will win nine times out of ten. Penn stars as a drifter trapped in an off-kilter Arizona town where everyone wants him to kill someone else. The cast and the director and the story actually indicate a chance for a quality genre picture, and I do enjoy these types of films. But there is nothing redeeming about U-Turn, and poor Sean Penn tries and tries but cannot save this unmitigated disaster.