Careers of five of Hollywood's once-red-hot leading men may hang on their big holiday flicks

John Anderson
Newsday (MCT)

None of the actors listed below will miss a meal in 2009. None will have to tighten his Versace belt, have his Gucci driving shoes resoled or be on the lookout for the repo man. However, in film, perception is everything, and even though these guys have gotten away with plenty because they are who they are, they may no longer be who they were.

So there may be careers dangling on some very dubious movies that will be coming out between now and the end of the year. When the smoke clears, Robert Pattison ("Twilight") or Lucas Grabeel ("High School Musical 3") may be the new king of Hollywood.


What's he done? "Ace Ventura," "The Mask" and "Dumb and Dumber," which made Jim Carrey the first $20 million-per-picture comedian. While his first pic at that price - "The Cable Guy" - got bad reception, he followed up with "Liar, Liar," "The Man in the Moon," "Me, Myself & Irene," a change of pace with "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," then back to form with "Bruce Almighty."

What's he done wrong? "The Majestic" (what?), "Fun With Dick and Jane" (huh?), "The Number 23" (eh?) and "Lemony Snicket" (isn't that on the Food Network?). He also has assumed that his brand of desperation comedy would have an unlimited shelf life.

What's new? "Yes Man" (opening Friday), based on the book by Danny Wallace, in which Carrey's character challenges himself to say "yes" to everything for a year.

What's at stake? Carrey reportedly is doing "Yes Man" with no money upfront - it's all back-end, with a payoff dependent on the movie making at least $70 million. If audiences say no to "Yes Man," well ... is "Hollywood Squares" still on?


What's he done? "Risky Business," "Top Gun," "The Firm," "A Few Good Men," "Jerry Maguire," "Mission: Impossible I, II and III," "Magnolia," Nicole, Katie, Suri, while maintaining a place setting at the high end of the Hollywood food chain for 20 years.

What's he done wrong? Bounced on Oprah's couch, made himself the middle-age poster child for Scientological weirdness and underdelivered at the box office with "M:I 3" to the extent it allowed petulant Viacom chief Sumner Redstone to cut him loose. He also danced, in "Tropic Thunder."

What's new? "Valkyrie" (Dec. 25), the story of Claus von Stauffenberg, a much-honored, much-wounded Nazi officer who was at the center of a German plot to kill Adolf Hitler in 1944.

What's at stake? Tom Cruise's place at the box office, which teeters on the risky premise of making a Nazi - even a well-intentioned Nazi - sympathetic. "Hitler's Germany," Cruise says in the trailer, "has seen its last sunrise." Yeah, well, the same might be said for Cruise. Love the eyepatch.


What's he done? "Thelma & Louise," "Se7en," "Twelve Monkeys," "Fight Club," "Ocean's Eleven, Twelve and Thirteen," "Babel." Need we go on?

What's he done wrong? Cheated on Jennifer Aniston. He's made a few dumb career choices, too. Potboilers like "The Mexican," "Troy" and "Spy Game" made what they did because he was in them; "Babel" and "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" were art films, and the Coen brothers' "Burn After Reading" might have shown a nervy willingness for Brad Pitt to play against his image, but it did jack for his marketability. And while Angelina Jolie may have taken the tabloid brunt of the whole Brangelina issue, it's his albatross, too.

What's new? David Fincher's "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (Dec. 25), from a script by Eric Roth ("Forrest Gump"), after a story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, about a man who was born old and gets younger as everyone around him ages.

What's at stake? "Button" is elegant and bittersweet, but it isn't a blockbuster. And the fewer blockbuster movies you make, the less you are perceived as a blockbuster actor. Pitt may not care - he has his philanthropic causes, and his children; his collaborations with Steven Soderbergh, George Clooney and his own Plan B production company have been about making quality movies. But if his clout is going to mean anything to lesser-known filmmakers, or worthy films, he has to remain a movie star.


What's he done? Become the biggest actor in the world, thanks to "Bad Boys," "Men in Black" (and their respective sequels), "Independence Day" and "Shark Tale."

What's he done wrong? Gotten serious. Will Smith's box-office potency remains unquestioned - "Hancock," which was a cinematic disaster, still made more than half a billion dollars worldwide. But did anyone really want to see "The Pursuit of Happyness"? And with the weighty "Seven Pounds," he's reunited with "Happyness" director Gabriele Muccino.

But no one's been talking about Smith the way they did after "Independence Day" - how brash and fresh and funny he was, and how his movies were a good time and how he straddled all those nettlesome demographic boundaries. What he's got is the money; what he wants is the Oscar. And he's going to make leaden movies until he gets one.

What's new? "Seven Pounds" (Friday) - "an extraordinary journey of redemption," which is the kind of description applied to movies that make you wanna go "zzzzzzzzzz" before you've found a parking spot.

What's at stake? Smith is huge, and when you're huge, you're a target. If "Seven Pounds" is a dog - and we have no reason to think it is, except the oh-so-ponderous advertising campaign - then he'll start to become an object of amusement, which isn't glamorous.


What's he done? "What's Eating Gilbert Grape," as many people now seem to forget, indicated that Leonardo DiCaprio was among the greatest actors alive and he hasn't done much to convince anyone otherwise. However, few of his films have captured the mainstream imagination in a major way. "Gangs of New York," "Catch Me If You Can," "The Aviator" and "The Departed" were all serious - in some cases brilliant - movies, but they weren't "Titanic."

What's he done wrong? "Blood Diamond" and, certainly, the documentary "The 11th Hour" were movies DiCaprio was motivated to do for their sociopolitical content. While he does consistently good, important work - his last, "Body of Lies," was an overlooked gem, probably because of its Middle East content - he hasn't become the exhibitor's best friend.

What's new? "Revolutionary Road" (Dec. 26), directed by Sam Mendes from the Richard Yates novel, about a '50s couple seeking fulfillment in France. In it, he's reunited with his "Titanic" co-star, Kate Winslet.

What's at stake? Like George Clooney with an age advantage, DiCaprio is probably the male star best able to survive box-office dips and acting misfires, because he has a surfeit of talent, natural magnetism and a contagious sense of conviction about whatever he's doing.

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