I can’t rightly say who started it, but I’d like to blame Hitchcock, the Waldo of American film. Ol’ Al would love to intersperse himself into his own films, the original Easter Egg shaped easteregg. He had a wonderful sense of humor about it to, popping up in Rear Window and Strangers on a Train with great comedic gusto.
Nowadays, with many actors taking on directorial roles, and vice versa, there’s bound to be crossover. More often than not, an actor will develop a true labor or love, a personal project, and will write, direct, act, produce — wearing as many hats as possible, because they want this getting to the big screen.
I love a good cameo. I really and truly do. Sometimes it’s a bright spot in an otherwise dreary film, or a familiar and welcome face. Like when you travel, and all of a sudden there’s someone you know and love, and you actually give a merry shout and greeting. A cameo can nail it.
The following list comprises moment where the director’s presence is so narcissistic, so unwelcome, that it totally fucks up the entire movie. Some of these films weren’t that good to begin with, and the director’s thrusting of themselves into the narrative like a porno clip spliced into a Disney film are just cinematic dickrolling at it’s finest. Many of these directors are known for making appearances in their own movies, so usually this particular choice represents their worst moments.
I left out Tyler Perry and Clint Eastwood, mostly because while I may not love the final project, they are totally appropriate for the roles they put themselves in. And while I don’t like his films, it’s hard to deny the fact that Perry is usually the most entertaining part of them.
Buckle up for the suck!
10. Warren Beatty as Dick Tracy in Dick Tracy
If you thought it crass when Tony Stark chowed down on Burger King at his press conference in Iron Man, it was nothing compared to the marketing onslaught that was Dick Tracy. Madonna’s album as Breathless Mahoney, the McDonald’s tie-ins. Four Slurpee cups for Thor? Bitch, please. You didn’t so much watch the unholy cameo-ridden mess of Dick Tracy as cleave it unto thine bosom like an event. And at the helm was Warren Beatty — a man who has twice been nominated for Oscars for Best Picture, Best Actor, Screenplay and Director in the same year. And while he’s certainly square jawed and squinty, he was simply way too old to be playing the titular detective. Matters were certainly not helped by casting his then beau Madonna as Breathless, the chanteuse where Dick wants to put his. While it’s as nostalgically giggleworthy as The Shadow or The Phantom, Dick Tracy and Beatty’s performance are certainly not great.
9. Mel Brooks as Dr. Abraham Van Helsing in Dracula: Dead and Loving It
Mel Brooks can put together an ensemble, and thusly has knocked out some stellar fucking films. Need I even catalog them? His decline began right around Robin Hood: Men in Tights and was a steady and solid downfall, until recently when he decided to revivify his career by making Broadway musicals out of his old films. (Can you wait for Spaceballs: The Musical? Schwartz! Fabulous schwartz!) Dracula: Dead and Loving It was just inexcusably terrible. And it’s not that Brooks is particularly awful in the role of Van Helsing, it’s just that his film doesn’t benefit from his usual hawking Hebraic schtick. As Yogurt? Brilliant. Not so much as a vampire slayer.
8. Quentin Tarantino as Jimmy in Pulp Fiction
Boy, this was a toss-up. I am quite the fan of Tarantino, both as a writer and director. But not as an actor, Holy shit, no. It’s even worse because he sets himself up against the stellar casts he assembled. He might fly if he were with a bunch of indie punks who were just as stuttery and abrasive as he is, but not when he’s facing down Samuel L. “Motherfucking” Motherfucking Jackson. I almost went with his turn as Mr. Brown in Reservoir Dogs and his Madonna ramble, but it’s just sly and pop-cultury enough to get you through. But watch his sputter through his “Dead Nigger Storage” tirade, it almost makes you wonder if he couldn’t simply find anyone in Hollywood of caliber who was willing to spout that purposefully controversal speech. It’s a weird bit of dialogue, which had it been cast with an actor of any race other than white and with any skill other than “Former Video Store Clerk” might have flown. But Tarantino in the bathrobe watching the work of Winston Wolf doesn’t cut it.
7. Michael Moore as Himself in Bowling for Columbine
I’m a frequent ranter of directors interspersing too much of themselves into their documentaries. I’d always rather see the facts rather than have some filmmaker yell them at me over dancing graphics. Morgan Spurlock manages to pull it off most of the time — and particularly well in POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold. But Michael Moore takes important political messages and makes them about Michael Moore. Bowling for Columbine was an excellent film, except for when Michael Moore was in it. I’m not even talking about the Charlton Heston ambush, or the getting a rifle with his bank account. What should have been about the horrors of the Columbine massacre became another reason for Michael Moore to yell at Bush. He learned his lesson a bit and managed to step back a bit more for Fahrenheit 9/11 and Sicko — except for when he was approached with accolades which he completely squandered by making them, yep, about himself.
6. Woody Allen as Sid Waterman in Scoop
Oh, Splendi. Scoop in and of itself is a bizarre film, almost a companion piece to Allen’s solid drama Match Point. It was more or less the last film Allen tried to play himself in, much to the director’s credit. It’s a bridgegap between his Manhattan films and his European tour, where his investors live and love and drink wine and chortle. Scoop might have worked as a lighthearted little crime comedy if not for the weird sort of pseudo-romantic relationship between Sid and Sondra, played by ScarJo. Had they just managed to hold it at the father-daughter vibe, it might have worked, but still, there’s something off-putting in the age variance. It gave the film a weird aftertaste, which apparently Woody agreed with, as he stopped popping up on screen afterwards.
5. Kenneth Branagh as Dr. Frankenstein in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
Shakespeare. That’s what you’re thinking, aren’t you? If you say Kenneth Branagh, you always think Shakespeare. He directs film versions, if only to throw himself in the major roles, and they’d probably make this list if they weren’t … well, damn good. Damn good like the pie and coffee in “Twin Peaks.” No, it’s when he decided to craft this overwrought monstrosity out of the crafting of an overwrought monstrosity that he sat upon his own quill. The three leads —Branagh, DeNiro as the “Sharp-Featured Man,” and Helena Bonham Carter as Elizabeth — take turns chomping on the darkly-lit scenery, trying to bemoan their way into convincing audiences that this is high art. And really, it’s as much a mess as DeNiro’s stitched up face. But this could have been worse: Francis Ford Coppola was going to direct it as a companion piece to Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
4. Spike Lee as Shorty in Malcolm X
Spike Lee loves to be in his own movies. And they get critical acclaim, so really who can argue? Except those of us who argue that he’s not a very good actor. But, we’re just ignorant. Unlike most people, I don’t think his Mookie is the weakest part of Do The Right Thing. In the true indie spirit, it makes full and complete sense that he’d cast himself as the lead. That’s practically a passion piece and as such is forgivable. No, it’s as Shorty in Malcolm X that he puts forth the most hubris. Snapping and popping and jiving in the pre-militant criminal hepcat days of Malcolm Little, Lee casts himself as the sidekick to Malcolm X (Denzel Washington). He’s making a massive, sprawling film about one of the most important figures in black culture, and he casts himself as Malcolm’s childhood buddy, Robin by way of Mars Blackmon to Denzel’s Batman. It’s as if Lee was saying, “Not only do I know and understand Malcolm X better than anyone, but look, we’re BFFs!” Please, baby, baby, please.
3. Jon Favreau as Happy Hogan in Iron Man 2
I adore Favs. Swingers? I was one of the guys ruining it for the rest of you. I love it. LOVE IT. And I was pretty stoked that he got the Iron Man gig and killed it. So when they gave him Iron Man 2? Why not? He gave himself a nice little cameo in the first film as Happy Hogan, Tony Stark’s chauffeur and personal assistant. And yes, there is a history and legacy in the comic books between Tony and Hogan and Pepper Potts and all that. But it seemed completely unnecessary to involve Hogan in the battle scenes with Mickey Rourke as Whiplash in the second film. He suddenly stepped out of the shadows to become a major character instead of the cameo he should have remained. I don’t know if this was Favreau’s clever attempt to keep himself in the narrative if they boot him, but it just struck me as really odd and distracting.
2. Vincent Gallo as Bud Clay in The Brown Bunny
Dear filmmakers: here’s how you get Chole Sevigny to give you a blowjob. For fuck’s sake. I’ve heard of films being giant masturbatory wankfests, but I’ve never been forced to actually watch the director/star get sexually gratified on camera. The Brown Bunny is essentially a depressed man driving around bemoaning the loss of his girlfriend, and culminates in what’s probably a dream sequence where he makes her apologize for breaking his heart while getting an extremely graphic blowjob. It must have been a surprise to Chloe as well, because you can actually see her eyes kind of jar shockingly when Gallo releases in her mouth. But to her credit, she finishes the scene. Mostly, because she probably didn’t want to film a retake. It’s a totally unnecessary and vain project, particularly when the vein he seems most concerned with is the one he’s inserting into her mouth.
1. M. Night Shyamalan as Vick Ran in Lady in the Water
What’s going to beat out an onscreen hummer? Becoming God. I LIKE Lady in the Water. I do. But you’ve got to be kidding me. Shyamalan loves to put himself in the films, because he really wants to work the whole “Hitchcockian” vibe. The only difference is Hitch never had lines. So when he plays the driver in Signs or an offscreen ranger who delivers “The Twist” in The Village that’s one thing. He started slowly inserting himself (tee hee, sorry, I’m still reeling from having to relive the Brown Bunny BJ) more and more in his films, giving himself more important parts central to the plot and such. But in Lady in the Water, he actually makes himself God. The only way they can save the world from imminent destruction is with the power of his writing. You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me. He casts himself as The Chosen One. Worse yet, it’s supposedly based on a children’s story he wrote for his own children. Now, I’m not a parent, but don’t you usually make the fucking CHILDREN the heroes in the story? Once upon a time, I saved everything. I beat up Disney, I made them shoot the film within a 45-minute drive of my house in PA, and I won. You were there too, but you mostly told everyone how awesome I was. The end.