A few weeks ago over on Grantland, Bill Simmons, a.k.a. The Sports Guy, attempted to write intelligently on movies, which is a bit like asking me to write intelligently on the NBA (note: I don’t know anything about the NBA). Bill Simmons basically has three frames of references for all of his pop-culture knowledge: “Saved by the Bell,” “90210,” and Rounders, and yet the man has managed to build a huge career out of basically transcribing phone conversations between himself, his friends, and his father all the while boring us with stories about his fantasy leagues.
What’s frustrating about the piece in question, however, is that — as dumb as his reasoning was — his conclusion was right. In the post, he posited that “People believe Ryan Reynolds is a movie star (even though he isn’t),” and then he went on to disprove the notion that Ryan Reynolds is a “movie star” by comparing Reynolds’ early work to a baseball player’s batting average. The analogy was basically that, in the first ten years of his career, Ryan Reynolds was a .220 hitter, and even though he had a hit with The Proposal, you can’t be a “Movie Star” without career-long consistency.
The analogy is dumb for a number of reasons, chief among them that Bill Simmons is an idiot. The other is that the analogy doesn’t work because, unlike most baseball players, movie stars don’t start out as .300 hitters and maintain career-long consistency. Some of the biggest movie stars “struggled in the minors” for years before finding a break. Look at George Clooney, who spent time on “The Facts of Life” and “ER” and a series of under-performing films before he became a “Movie Star.” In fact, Clooney still only has four films that have broken $100 million — Batman and Robin and the three Ocean’s films — and yet there is little doubt that Clooney is considered a “Movie Star.” Translated into Bill Simmon’s baseball analogy, however, Clooney is a .240 career hitter who had a couple of decent years when he was surrounded by the talent-heavy Yankees.
In the end, though, Simmons was right about Reynolds. He’s not a movie star. At least not yet, and he probably never will be in the Capitol-A MOVIE STAR sense. The failure of his latest film, The Change-Up — which debuted at number four this weekend with only $13.5 million — illustrates Simmons’ point: Reynolds can’t open a film. Ryan Reynolds also gave us an under-performing Green Lantern earlier this summer, and before that, he attempted to use his newfound The Proposal clout to carry a low-budget indie flick, Buried, which barely made $1 million at the box office (despite the fact that it was a very good movie).
But that clout was illusory. The Proposal succeeded on the backs of the well-liked Sandra Bullock and surprisingly, Betty White. Ryan Reynolds was just a pair of charming abs with a quick delivery in that movie. In fact, discounting Buried, Reynolds’ best two films were Adventureland (in which he had a small supporting role) and Definitely, Maybe, which didn’t even muster $35 million at the box office. Reynolds’ best performance was — and will probably always remain — his supporting role in Blade: Trinity. More like that, R-Squared. Put away the goddamn superhero costumes and pick up a pair of pistols.
What we’ve seen this summer is not so much a Movie Star disappointing as much as — conceding Simmons’ point but not his reasoning — Hollywood’s failed attempt to turn a modest comedic actor with a well-sculpted body into a Movie Star. Reynolds is, sad to say, best suited to romantic comedies, and even then, best suited to romantic comedies top-lined by A-list female stars. And if he wants to grow the beard and take out some assholes as part of an action ensemble, that’d work, too. He should join forces with Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Idris Elba in that club of not-quite-and-never-truly-will-be A-list stars.
At this point, Ryan Reynolds only has one chance left to succeed as a major movie star, next year’s Safe House with Denzel Washington. It was a much sought-after role, but my guess is that if it does succeed, Denzel will get the credit. If it fails, then it’s just another in a series of Double-R’s bombs and the plug will finally be pulled on Deadpool. Either way, I suspect that Reynolds will ultimately return from whence he came: Bumbling around in mediocre romantic comedies until he moves on to mediocre family fare.
There were other films this weekend at the box office, if you’re curious. Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which features another one of those not-quite-and-never-will-be A-list stars in James Franco, over-performed with a solid $54 million. That number is not only good for Rise, but it’s a boost for critics, who actually did have a rare effect in reversing some of the preconceived opinions on this movie (preconceptions, admittedly, that were created in part by negative pre-release coverage on those very movie sites that provided positive reviews, ours included). It really is an outstanding movie, and demonstrates — as The Dark Knight and Inception before it — that there is an audience for darker films. That’s a lesson I’m sure that Hollywood will once again ignore in favor of another formulaic superhero origins story.
In at number two this weekend, The Smurfs has held well, losing only 41 percent off its opening weekend, adding another $21 million. Meanwhile, Cowboys and Aliens had a much deeper 56 percent drop. Standing at $67 million, the $163 million budgeted film may ultimately fall short of $100 million.
Meanwhile, a trinity of the summer’s best comedies (along with Bridesmaids) comes in at 7, 8, and 9: Crazy, Stupid, Love ($12 million), Friends with Benefits ($4.7 million) and Horrible Bosses ($4.6 million). Expect all three of those films to outperform the likes of Cowboys and Aliens on DVD. And that’s all I have for you this weekend.