Bad enough that Sean Penn looks leathery, but apparently he’s been slathered with brown shoe polish.
When I was a kid, my parents took me to see a legal drama called And Justice for All. Its high point, which was also its low, was defense attorney Al Pacino yelling and foaming at the mouth at the judge: “You’re outta order! You’re outta order!” He was led out of the courtroom, but not before every Pinoy mume-Method actor had resolved to recreate that scene in his own movies (and harvested awards for it). Al has defined screen pyroclastics in films like Scarface and Carlito’s Way. When he cuts loose, you want to open an umbrella to protect yourself from getting drenched in flying spittle. (Apparently you’re supposed to do this at his theatre performances.) And yet I maintain that his deranged intensity was essential to those movies: you cannot be an understated cokehead megalomaniac. The derangement was the character. In Sean Penn’s case he will scream, contort his face, display his neck veins and threaten to go full Scanners for no other reason than to show that he is a Great Actor. In some movies, it works. In other movies, it begs to be tasered.
Hugh Grant’s new movie The Rewrite isn’t terrible, we just wish it didn’t exist. It makes us feel old. Hugh Grant has always played adorable losers—in Four Weddings and A Funeral he was the friend who couldn’t find love, in Notting Hill he was the average guy who fell in love with the most famous actress on earth. The joke was that he wasn’t really a loser—he could find love if he looked outside his social circle, and he was really not average. He was merely condescending to us viewers, but he did it so charmingly that we bought it. Plus we suspected that his self-deprecating air was not put-on and that he had depths of self-loathing which made him far more interesting than the happily successful.
But in order to play adorable losers one must be adorable, and past a certain age the adjective has to be dropped. Oh, Hughie. Perhaps it’s time to specialize not in floppy-haired nice people, but in cads and bounders horrible jerks, as you did so well in About A Boy and in Bridget Jones’s Diary. It’s too bad Cloud Atlas was savaged by the critics because we liked it very much, and you were good at playing various evil creatures.
Also we think part of Hugh Grant’s success was that he was selling an idea of London and should therefore be surrounded by eccentric British characters. Which of his American movies work?
In The Rewrite, Hugh Grant plays a wash-up Hollywood screenwriter who accepts a job teaching at a college in upstate New York. The fish-out-of-water plot hasn’t worked in ages. Hugh is still charming but the movie is so bland, it should only be shown to patients recuperating from gastroenteritis.
The Rewrite is directed by Marc Lawrence, who also did Music and Lyrics. That one had a better hook—Hugh plays a washed-up pop star who accepts gigs in theme parks and school reunions. His character seems to have been based on Andrew Ridgeley. Remember Ridgeley, the other guy in Wham? George Michael’s partner? We’ll never forget the review of his solo album: It sounds like the work of an evil back-up singer who erased all the main vocal tracks. That movie was also bland, but has-been Hugh did not look so has-been, and it began with this brilliant parody of British New Wave Band music videos, which we watch when we need to cheer up.