Subject: Gerard James Butler, 40-year-old Scottish actor
Date of Assessment: March 19, 2010
Positive Buzzwords: Roguish, charming, in my pants
Negative Buzzwords: Romcom, misogyny, arrogance
The Case: There are actors like Daniel Day Lewis, who sparingly choose their acting projects (what would be considered a mere handful, 19 movies since 1977) in such a manner that leaves an audience wanting for much more. Then, there is Gerard Butler, who is seemingly everywhere at once (and is rapidly closing in upon 30 movies in just the past decade) and leaving audiences wary at the summit of a mass-produced crap mountain. Now, through a string of bad role choices, this perpetually awfully-accented actor may very well have squandered the goodwill gathered by his only undisputed “hit” movie, 300. If Gerard Butler had played his cards correctly, he’d probably be enjoying Sam Worthington’s career right now. So, how did this happen?
The answer to that question is at once complicated and simplistic. Even though the past few years have seemed like a blur of omnipresent Butler, his screen presence actually got off to a relatively slow start. At the dawn of Butler’s acting career, he sort of buzzed under the radar for a few years, but with (the dreadfully awful) Dracula 2000, the youngish Butler began to attract some fandom. Still, it wasn’t until 2004’s The Phantom of the Opera that Gerard Butler fully won over the hearts of internet-savvy females with his brooding, anguished turn as The Phantom; these ladies, inspired by Butler’s allegedly beautiful singing voice and tragically unrequited love, quickly began to set up online fan sites for the object of their very own unrequited love. While this fan base didn’t quite make Butler a household name, these women are perhaps the sole reason that Butler has enjoyed respectable (and wholly undeserved) box office success through most of his seemingly oblivious tour of Romcom Hell.
Then, if only for a brief moment, shit got serious. In 2006, Butler’s star suddenly shot onto the mainstream scene with 300, and millions were riveted by the actor’s sheer intensity. Of course, there’s no way to tell how much of Butler’s wild-eyed portrayal of King Leonidas was enhanced by CGI, but the actor gave a genuine performance and could have easily lined himself up as a credible action hero. Yet maybe Butler didn’t want that for himself, or maybe he was afraid to get typecast as an action guy at age 40, so, instead, he’s pretty much executed a self-fulfilling prophecy of romcom hell. If only Butler had realized that romcom guys are fairly disposable and in plentiful supply, but Hollywood doesn’t have enough viable action heroes anymore (aside from Bruce Willis, who just doesn’t do much action). Seriously though — Dwayne Johnson has gone the kiddie route while Vin Diesel is merely Fast and Furious to excess — we need some heroes.
Until recently, Butler probably didn’t realize the collateral damage that his career has suffered, for one can make the case that Law Abiding Citizen and The Ugly Truth didn’t entirely disappoint at the box office. What these movies did do, however, is to seal his reputation for not giving a shit about a decent script or storyline. That’s not necessarily a fatal flaw in Hollywood, but Butler’s career may have also been irreparably harmed by his self-induced “romcom trilogy,” which largely featured the actor as an misogynistic (yet inexplicably irresistible) male slut. Now, I’ll admit that Butler’s P.S. I Love You character was fairly charming and likable, even though the movie itself was a nauseating experience. Yet, the male leads of his follow-up romcoms, The Ugly Truth and The Bounty Hunter, weren’t very romantic at all. Perhaps the dickishness of the former movie inspired the latter movie to be passed over by his formerly loyal fanbase, who opted instead to stay home and rewatch Gerry’s Phantom with their vibrators and a box of tissues. Hence the lackluster opening weekend of The Bounty Hunter, which pretty much solidifies my budding Robert Pattinson theory in regard to the also less than impressive opening weekend of Remember Me; that is, an actor can be a swoonworthy dreamboat, but that doesn’t mean that his fan club will show up to watch everything he tosses up on the celluloid screen.
Altogether, Butler hasn’t compensated for the romcom trilogy with the forgettable Nim’s Island or the indecipherable or unintentionally ambiguous Gamer. Nor is Law Abiding Citizen considered a highlight of this once-promising movie star’s career. And please don’t get me started (again) on Butler’s lack of attention paid to proper accents, for you really don’t want to read another rant upon that little subject. It suffices to say that, as far as voice talent goes, How to Train Your Dragon could have done much better than Gerard Butler.
The Prognosis: Let’s face it — Butler isn’t a great actor, and he has quickly gathered a reputation of making really awful career decisions. After The Bounty Hunter, he’ll have to lure the asses of his once-loyal fanbase back into theater seats. Butler once embodied King Leonidas so well and, in doing so, urged his Spartans to “Prepare for glory!” Now, it’s time for that hero within to rise again and get back to action movies, for retreating back into Romcom Hell would mean certain surrender to straight-to-DVD slavery.
Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She and her little black heart can be found at agentbedhead.com.