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Let's be honest-- this weekend's 2 Guns doesn't look like anything special, an off-the-rack action thriller that teams up two special agents trying to figure out who set them up and…. sorry, I nodded off midway through that description. But what 2 Guns is really about isn't the plot, but its actors-- it's the first chance we've ever gotten to see Mark Wahlberg and Denzel Washington team up, and that's enough to make it worthwhile. You'd think the two charismatic stars would have crossed paths by now, but it might be very logical Hollywood math that's kept them apart. Either one of them is enough to draw in a huge audience who will see them in anything. Neither really needs the backup.
Even if Wahlberg and Washington don't do it for you, you know what we're talking about. Everyone has a certain actor who, for whatever reason, they will watch in anything, even when so much of what that actor does is crap. It's how Bruce Willis movies like A Good Day to Die Hard make $300 million worldwide. It's how Adam Sandler has created a mini-empire. There are actors we will all forgive over and over again, because for whatever reason they're compulsively watchable no matter what. And as we prepare for 2 Guns to prove that point about Wahlberg and Washington, we're pausing to celebrate some of our other favorites-- the actors we can't stop watching, even when the movies that surround them are terrible. We just can't let them go, and no matter what crap we sit through for them, we don't even want to.
Three years ago, I walked into a movie theater in Minneapolis, Minnesota with confidence. I knew, despite all the horrible trailers, the lame marketing and the objections of my extended family, that what we were about to watch would be passable. I knew, regardless of how uninspired and aimless the script and direction might be, Tom Cruise would find a way to make Knight And Day not suck. Through sheer force of talent and swagger, I knew he would will the project to mediocrity, and by Maverick, he sure as hell did. I and everyone else in my extended family left the theater not hating ourselves.
You see, Cruise might not make as many gems as Tom Hanks or deliver as many thoughtful performances as Philip Seymour Hoffman, but he is a goddamn virtuoso at making everything he’s in better. Jack Reacher would have been needlessly complicated and boring without him. Instead, it’s needlessly complicated and pretty damn fun. Rock Of Ages? My biggest complaint is that movie doesn’t have enough Stacee Jaxx. I still have no idea what the hell the point of Vanilla Sky was, but that doesn’t mean I don’t watch it whenever it’s on TV. I have no idea whether Cruise’s upcoming science fiction, video game-esque Groundhog Day inspired event film Edge of Tomorrow will be great when it’s released next year, but I can promise you it won’t suck.
You can’t magically create the Everyman archetype. An actor either has it, or they don’t. Paul Newman had it, whether playing a con artist (The Sting), a pool shark (The Hustler), a convict (Cool Hand Luke) or a past-his-prime hockey player (Slap Shot). And his relatability, his down-to-earth accessibility, ensured that I’d watch him in any movie he tried. You aren’t always rewarded. Newman started in television in the 1950s, and acted on screen until 2005. They weren’t all Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid. But Newman always attacked each role with a glint of mischief in his eye and the calm cool that comes with confidence of craft.
As big of a movie star as he was – and few were bigger, ever – Newman always made a connection with the material, and with the audience watching said material. He elevated generic genre films (Fort Apache the Bronx; his Harper films), and salvaged soapy melodramas (often made with his beloved spouse, Joanne Woodward). We lost Newman in 2008 at the age of 83. But his legacy as a scene stealer and a silver-screen savior will live on for an eternity.
I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know Nic Cage, but I remember clearly when I became a die-hard fan: 1997 Con Air. I’ve watched that movie so much I seriously wonder what percentage of my life has gone toward that activity. (20%? 30%?) Since then, Cage’s name has brought me into literally dozens of other movies, some good, some bad, some downright terrible. But I regret nothing because Cage is always worth the price of admission.
Cage never phones in a performance. The guy radiates energy, and whether he’s playing a maybe vampire, a cop wearing the face of his terrorist nemesis, a Batman wanna-be, or a knight charged with executing an evil witch, he’s incredibly fun to watch! Better yet, his star power extends beyond his films to make him seem too weird to be real, yet we accept it. Anytime you read about him naming his son after Superman, or buying a pyramid, or wanting to shut down production on a film so he can switch parts, don’t you 1) believe it instantly, and 2) think “Fuck yeah, Nic Cage!” I do. Nic Cage is the movie star I’d be in my wildest imagination, and for that I’ll follow him anywhere.
It's been hit or miss for Reese Witherspoon for the past decade or so. As one of many who was won over by her performances in American Psycho, Cruel Intentions and Legally Blonde, I remain hopeful to the point of blindly optimistic that Witherspoon's next great movie is just around the corner. The last five years haven't exactly been a bevy of stellar credits, with films ranging in quality from decent (Water for Elephants) to barely watchable (How Do You Know) but I'll continue to watch because Witherspoon brings enough charm, charisma and talent to the table to put the "watchable" in "barely watchable." Had someone else played Marlena in Water for Elephants, I'm not sure I would've remembered seeing the film at all. Witherspoon shined in the role, and also captured the necessary spark between her character and Robert Pattinson's Jacob. In fact, their connection on screen may have been the best the film had to offer. Not all of Witherspoon's films are winners, but her performances never falter. She's funny when she needs to be funny, she's dramatic and believable when the role calls for it, and she has the kind of screen presence that always makes her movies worth watching.
Unlike some of the other names on this list, it's totally unlikely that Jason Statham is ever going to win an Oscar. Not only has he never really shown too much range as an actor, he doesn’t typically take on parts that the Academy pays much attention to. But boy, is he a hell of a lot of fun to watch on the big screen.
Since arriving on the scene via Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch - following careers as a model, black market salesman and a diver for the British National Diving Team – Statham has carved out a niche for himself as one of the biggest action stars in the world, and it’s a title that suits him perfectly. The projects he takes on aren’t typically filled with complex and interesting themes, but it’s hard to find a reason to complain watching him take out a room full of dudes with nothing but his fists. He may not have the size of Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone, but thanks to his abundance of charisma, his cool Cockney accent and his all-around badass-ness, I’d be game for Transporter 20 if it were to ever get to that point.
For a long time Guy Pearce was an actor you didn't have to feel guilty for enjoying, popping with charisma in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert or leading with grim noir appeal in Memento. Then came the dark days of the 2000s, and Pearce went from "promising actor on the rise" to "making the most of the bad stuff that comes his way.
And though roles in films like Iron Man 3 and Prometheus mean Pearce is back on an upswing, he still shines the most when he's rising above the crap that surrounds him. The ultimate example, and maybe, seriously, Pearce's best role to date, is last year's Lockout, the movie so insane and loud that its true name is obviously Space Jail. Pearce is channeling pure Kurt Russell as the ex-con charge with rescuing the President's daughter from a space prison in the middle of a mutiny, and he's amazing, as if he's injected the essence of every B-movie into his veins. He's stolen scenes in much better movies, from The King's Speech to Lawless, but his power is in elevating much worse stuff-- something I hope he doesn't lose now that he's regularly got competition for being the best thing in his movies.