List of 5: Great Performances in Poor Films

Al Pacino in Jack and Jill

Jaws 4: The Revenge posterJack and Jill came out this week in Australia, and while it’s had mostly bad reviews on Rotten Tomatoes (4% is a little bit harsh we reckon), almost everybody has agreed on one thing: Al Pacino has given us his best performance in years.

So this got us thinking: what other crimes against celluloid have been saved, become memorable or even just survived going straight to garage sales by the presence of a terrific or unexpected acting job from an otherwise top thesp? This list is for those actors who kept giving it their all, despite being knee-deep in the murky brown end of cinema. Or who simply didn’t know they were surrounding with crap, and kept ploughing on regardless.

Here’s a few we thought of. Let us know in the comments below.

Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady

5. Meryl Streep – The Iron Lady

A controversial start to the list perhaps, but read on before any flaming begins. It’s not often a Meryl Streep film follows mention of an Adam Sandler one, but The Iron Lady (which we will review in full in the coming weeks) is a patchy film. Dealing with the difficult subject of Thatcher Britain, the producer were given to choices: to whitewash the controversial bits, or to show a warts and all depiction of life under conservative government, victims and all. The film went with the former, but there is nothing sub par about Streep’s performance. Streep almost plays two distinct roles in the film: the middle-aged and powerful Thatcher, and the older and rapidly declining former PM. Indeed, it is this performance under heavy prosthetics and doddering about as though she is caught between one world in the next that impresses the most, although it is all good. Unfortunately, the other elements of the film just don’t pull together as well, but this only highlights how good Streep is.

Ian McDiarmid as Palpatine in The Phantom Menace

4. Ian McDiarmid – Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace

Since 1999, we’ve had a lot of time to look back at the first of the Star Wars prequels, and ruminate on its relative merits in relation to all six films that now make up the Star Wars Saga. With the benefit of over a decade of consideration, Blu-ray reissues and the forthcoming 3D re-release, we can now carefully make a revised decision on this film: it’s still shit.

Nobody told the Emperor though. Under such heavy makeup in the original films, the actor was actually able to come back and played a younger version of himself almost two decades after his last appearance in Return of the Jedi, long before Vader went through his Terrible Twos and started saying “Noooo!” a lot. McDiarmid is alternative slimy, a model politician (same thing really) and the insidious Darth Sidious, although we aren’t supposed to know that yet. Of course, he should get props for working with burnt testicles on his head in Revenge of the Sith, but that’s for another list.

Anaconda - Jon Voight

3. Jon Voight – Anaconda

A name and an animal we never thought we’d see in the same sentence, but the Oscar winner unfairly earned two Razzie nominations for this film as Worst Screen Couple (with the animatronic anaconda) and Worst Actor. Indeed, Total Film levelled some fairly damning accusations as the character: “Flourishing an absurd Cajun accent, Voight is obviously playing up the camp in a daft monster movie that sort of calls for it – but he tips right out into the other side of absurdity. He winds up being the movie’s most embarrassing component“.

The first nomination may be entirely true, as how could one ever get close enough to truly love a beast? As to the second point, we take great exception. The main was working his butt off, with a sexy new accent, some sit-ups and some rage-focused catch phrases. If there’s any doubt, check out this clip:


Christopher Walken - Gigli

2. Christopher Walken – Gigli

“Larry, I have chicken!” Gigli scores a little bit better on Rotten Tomatoes than the film that inspired this list, with the 7% indicating that people have perhaps softened over time on this zeitgeist misfire. Attempting to capitalise on the then-hot relationship of Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez (remember Bennifer?), Gigli was an unmitigated disaster, offending virtually everybody from the mentally ill to the gay and lesbian community.

Even going up against another serious contender for this list, Al Pacino, Walken gave it his darndest, especially on the delivery of a line about some good pie, that was probably not even in the script. “Seriously: Man, you know what I’d love to do, right now? Go down to Marie Callender’s, get me a big bowl, pie, some ice cream on it, mmm-hmm good! Put some on your head! Your tongue would slap your brains out trying to get to it!” Nobody would put that in a movie, except one man. Who is that? Christopher Walken, that’s who. And that is why he is our #2.

Jaws 4: The Revenge

1. Michael Caine – Jaws: The Revenge

The horrors of Jaws: The Revenge are well known and parodied in the film community, with a rating of 0% on Rotten Tomatoes, one of the most ridiculous plots in a killer shark movie to date. We say that having recently seen Shark Night 3D, which barely does anything to live up to its title. The film is so bad that Michael Caine claims to have never actually seen it: “I have never seen it, but by all accounts it is terrible. However, I have seen the house that it built, and it is terrific.” An actor who admits that he’s only doing it for the money? Bloody fantastic.

Jaws: The Revenge sees Ellen Brody so distraught at the loss of her entire family at the hands of the vicious gang of sharks that have been taunting her for over a decade, and convinced the shark is out to get her, she does the only sensible thing she can think of. No, she doesn’t move to a high-rise apartment, but rather heads to the Bahamas to stay with family and friends. Yes, she flees sharks by going to an island nation. Here she meets airplane pilot Hoagie (Michael Caine), but the shark is already three steps ahead of them, clearly still angry at having seen three of its brethren killed off in earlier movies. By the way, did anybody notice that Ellen has flashbacks to things she didn’t witness, simply so they could include Roy Scheider in the final Jaws film? Classy.

Yet Caine is one of those actors who always gives it his all, even when the source material doesn’t really deserve it. We could invoke Beyond the Poseidon Adventure, but that would be too cruel. The only man who ever gave a reasonable response to seeing a giant shark headed for him: “Oh shit”. Michael Caine, our hat is tipped to you.