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Damn It, I Know You're Better Than This: 5 Crappy Actors Who We Know Can Do Better

By The Pajiba Staff | Lists | March 10, 2016 |

By The Pajiba Staff | Lists | March 10, 2016 |

You know who they are. They’re consistently in garbage — lowbrow fair that will always disappoint the critic in you, even if commercially they do well. Actors who choose not to actually work, but rather to just take the easy, lazy paychecks. They drive us mad, because we’ve SEEN them do great things, yet they consciously choose to stick with the crap, catering to lower denominators, never reaching for the stars within their grasp. So here they are, along with the film that made us realize that they could be so much more.

Jennifer Lopez, Out of Sight: Believe it or not, Lopez started off as a reasonably serious actor. The culmination of this effort is her superb work in Out of Sight as Karen Sisco, US Marshall, in search of charming bank robber Jack Foley (George Clooney). And yes, the chemistry between them is unbelievably hot — they play off each other beautifully and sexily and perfectly. But her performance is far beyond that — she’s sharp and witty and tough and hard-as-nails, sensitive and sweet and empathetic. She consoles his ex-wife, she navigates an unpleasant patriarchal system of supervisors with deftness, and she beats the holy hell out of anyone who tries to mess with her. It’s such a great role and a great performance to go with it. Lopez followed it up with a hollow performance in The Cell, and then went on to The Wedding Planner and it’s pretty much downhill from there. — TK

Jean-Claude Van Damme, JCVD: Look, Bloodsport, Double Impact, Universal Soldier, and a few other Van Damme movies are classics of the trashy 80s action pantheon (even when they were made in the early 90s), but to say that Van Damme’s emoting in those movies was on a par with his splits would be disingenuous. And, truth be told, none of them occupy that special space in the Venn diagram between Good Action Movie and Good Movie that things like Die Hard do. And boy oh boy, as great fun as they were to watch back in the day, they are not an impressive sight upon rewatch.

Nevertheless, back in 2008, when I heard that French director Mabrouk el Mechri had released a movie about Van Damme playing a heightened-reality version of himself, I was intrigued. JCVD stars Jean-Claude Van Damme as a Jean-Claude Van Damme whose professional and personal life are in tatters. He returns home to Brussels, where he gets caught up in a hostage situation that results from a post office heist. The movie as a whole is excellent, but it is Van Damme’s sensitive, self-aware central performance that absolutely knocks it out of the park. A commentary on celebrity, the media, artifice, success, and regret, the movie hinges on a sublime moment in which Van Damme directly addresses the audience. Slowly rising in his chair up out of the set, eventually resting among the lighting and above the fray, he tearfully recounts his life and career in a soul-baring confessional that is so honest and fractured it makes you think it was improvised and filmed in one take.

Who knew he had it in him?

Here’s the scene in question, but I’d encourage you to watch the whole movie, as it has double the impact in context. — Petr Knava

Halle Berry, Monster’s Ball: I’m not saying that Berry hasn’t been in any other good movies. I’m saying she hasn’t been good in any other movies.

Berry’s start came with the tv series Living Dolls, which was a spinoff of Who’s The Boss that followed models living together. And learning. Berry’s first movie role was a crackhead in Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever, but she quickly returned to her gorgeous, but inconsequential roles. Do you remember her in Boomerang? How about The Rich Man’s Wife? The Flintstones? Swordfish seemed to be the all-time low for Berry, as she bared her breasts on film for a pathetic hacker movie with a terrible plot-line and even worse acting.

Then Berry surprised us all with her Oscar win for her role as garbage person Leticia Musgrove in Monster’s Ball. Leticia’s husband is executed in prison and she unwittingly begins a relationship with one of the men who helped make her a widow. This was a character with depth and flaws and fears; abusive yet fragile; grieving yet strong. It was a complex character that Berry portrayed excruciatingly well. Alas, after her win, Berry returned to smoldering tire fires like Gothika and Catwoman. She has yet to find another performance to showcase her acting ability like Monster’s Ball did.

Colin Farrell, In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths: There are actors who can consistently rise above bad material. Michael Shannon. Eva Green. The Boy Next Door and Jem’s Ryan Guzman. (Fight me.) Colin Farrell is not one of them. Put him a shitty movie, and my God, he is hopeless. But give him the right role—most notably, in his two movies with director Martin McDonagh, In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths—and he shines. Like Chris Pine and Brad Pitt, Colin Farrell is a character actor in the body of a leading man. No matter how many action movies people try to put him in, he has this kind of childlike (minus all the alleged STDs), awkward, hangdog, OK, maybe vaguely stupid quality that means he’s just plain good at playing sad sack losers. He takes that to 11 in the upcoming flick The Lobster, in which he plays a socially inept (and paunchy) gent who has to find love within 40 days lest he be turned into an animal. If there’s one career move I want to urge Colin Farrell to make, it’s to do a Winter’s Tale sequel, obviously:

But if there’s a second, it’s to latch onto McDonagh and other quirkyweird directors and not let them go. (McDonagh does have a film coming up with Frances McDormand, but she’s the only cast member yet announced.) — Rebecca Pahle

James Marsden, who is 42 years old, and he still looks young enough to play a teenager on Blossom:


The thing about Marsden, though, is that while he’s a fine actor, and while he is incredibly good looking, he doesn’t possess a dark streak. He’s too good looking to be the best friend, but he lacks the asshole streak capable of making him a true leading man. What happens, instead, is that he ends up as the harmless love interests — or the other guy — in romantic comedies. He’s the Greg Kinnear. The Chris Messina. The perfect guy … for someone else. There’s just no place for him in the studio ecosystem, and — again — he’s too attractive for indie flicks, so he takes whatever role is offered, which is the sixth-billed actor in a studio comedy or the leading man in a terrible straight-to-streaming drama. He’s got Enchanted going for him, and people know him from his miscast role in the X-Men franchise, but the world will never truly know what Marsden can do until they find a role suitable to his brand of inoffensive good-lookingness. On the other hand, while he is unfortunately incapable of elevating the terrible material he’s most often saddled with, movie critics forced to endure his movies can at least rely on Marsden to create a spark of interest, and for a movie like 27 Dresses or Walk of Shame, that is saying something. — Dustin Rowles