LOS ANGELES – Long ago, I signed the wink-wink contract with Hollywood which basically said I would suspend disbelief, accept what I was seeing as plausible and enjoy myself in the realm of the cinematic experience each time I plopped down in the plush, reclining stadium seats which inhabit all theaters these days. I’ve adhered to this contract a couple hundred times in my life (give or take a few dozen), but one specific performance recently made me question why it even exists and why I so faithfully accept it.
I mean, look, the list of actors and actresses who can’t perform their way out of a paper bag is long and distinguished but I’ve accepted that about them; I know what I’m getting. Denzel is going to be himself whether he’s the blind badass in “Book of Eli” (it’s been on HBO recently), a whistle-happy, sneering high school football coach or a police detective who can time travel. He’s going to do the Denzel walk, the laugh, the smile and definitely the Denzel clap. You can set your trendy-as-hell MegaShock watch to it.
Now, this tangent I’m turning into a 1,000-word column has manifested itself because last weekend I saw “Bad Teacher,” which stars Cameron Diaz, Jason Segal, some red-head whose eyes are too close together and Justin Timberlake. And while the film was what it was – a below mediocre romantic comedy disguised as a female-led raunch com – it was funny enough where I didn’t feel bad about forking over $16 (#NotTrue).
But it got me thinking on a larger scale about the aforementioned contract we all accept upon each movie-ticket purchase – sort of how we blindly scroll to the bottom without reading that enormous disclaimer before downloading the latest iTunes update or register for Match.com. It could really say anything in there and we’re just clicking that we’re OK with that. That’s what it’s like going to the movies. “I will not take this as real. I will believe what I’m seeing and ignore all obvious plot holes. I will acknowledge that out there exists a bar where Seth Rogan can walk up to Katherine Heigl and she won’t laugh in his face when he spits game … I will … I will.”
Basically, what I’m saying is this: Justin Timberlake will never be a successful actor, as his presence in films is too distracting and outweighs any performance he gives, good or bad.
Now keep in mind, I don’t know him, (obviously, because if I had you can bet I would’ve written about that by now) but I can guess that Timberlake doesn’t merely wish to be in movies, he probably wants to be the best and being the best actor means winning an Academy Award (and sleeping with the most/hottest chicks, which in this case debunks my whole theory about him). Well, I can guarantee that’s never going to happen. I have a better chance at throwing a no-hitter for the Red Sox in my underwear with my mom’s man friend’s cat Stormy catching than he does at hearing his name called in the Kodak Theatre.
And it’s not his fault; well, it actually is his fault for being far too successful and popular at BEING JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE.
Look, it’s not like I haven’t given him a chance, in fact, full disclosure: I love him. I want to be him. But this acting thing is just never going to work.
Let’s take a look-see at the run down of some his more notorious work and what the general (read: my) reaction was when he popped up on screen, shall we?
- Alpha Dog (2006): he wasn’t such a distraction as was his tattoos, such where I spent the entire time wondering why that sweet kid from N’Sync who had the cornrows was suddenly a crackhead Hell’s Angel.
- Black Snake Moan (2006): spent too much time focusing on Christina Ricci’s boobs to even remember he was in this one.
- Social Network (2010): wait, so you’re saying Justin Timberlake basically invented Napster, named Facebook and goes around skipping out on dinner tabs? I’m confused. (Ed. Note: re-watched this movie recently, JT does, in fact, pick up the tab. My bad, yo.)
- Bad Teacher (2011): why is Justin Timberlake acting like such a nerd? And he’s a terrible singer??? This can’t be right. He brought sexy back! Now why is he dry humping Cameron Diaz?!? Weren’t they dating?
See, that’s the thing with JT at this point. His previous career was so huge that and iconic (at the ripe age of 30, mind you) that anything he’s trying to do post that gets overshadowed. Sure, there have been other musicians who’ve gone into acting and had success (David Bowie, Mark Whalberg, Will Smith) but it also wasn’t 2011 when they tried to do so. Meaning the 24-hour, blogosphere newscycle wasn’t in effect where I knew everything about these people. David Bowie could sleep with Mick Jagger and no one would know about it for 30 years until a tell-all book came out. Today, if say a member of a boy band was gay, that would get out almost immediately (oh wait, bad example) and it would change our perception of them and affect how we viewed their work.
Basically what I’m saying is, because today’s celebrity culture operates in such a way where nobodys can become famous for nothing overnight, it works in the opposite direction for people with a superior given talent; making it extremely difficult to cross over into other avenues and reach the acclaim of their original endeavour.
And don’t come at me with Ludacris or The Rock, or other entertainers with successful backgrounds who’ve gone into acting; they are also distracting in their movies too, but they’re also not pretending to be serious about it. I doubt that Chris Bridges or Dwayne Johnson think they’re winning an Oscar any time soon, and if they do, they’re delirious.
Mark Wahlberg is in his own league when it comes to this, however, having been nominated for an Academy Award twice; though what is comical is the reverse of what I was saying. He takes him self FAR too seriously (did you know he produces “Entourage?”). That can backfire if you’re a huge d-bag about it, which who knows if he is since again, I’ve obviously never met him. (remember Eminem clowning Wahlberg on TRL back in the day? Hands down one of the funniest things ever. (can’t find it on YouTube, sorry))
Timberlake is similiar to Wahlberg when it comes to acting; you can tell he’s taking himself beyond serious, he just doesn’t have the same skills Marky Mark has. And while watching JT give his performance you’re secretly waiting for him to do break it down back to Omeletteville or return sexy to its proper owner and when he doesn’t you’re greatly disappointed.
JT recently said in a Vanity Fair interview that he could see himself doing maybe one more album and a big tour, and that’s too bad and extremely shortsighted on his part. I’m not saying he should be the Stones or Springsteen and tour until he can’t jump around, dance on stage and tell incoherent stories behind each song any longer, but you shouldn’t deny the public the gift which they helped make you famous for (in other words: you gotta give the fans what they want). It’s the exact advice Phil Jackson gave to Michael Jordan to lure him back to the NBA in 1995. And let’s be honest, it’s how you stay relevant: do what got you there (of course being active in social media and/or changing your name doesn’t hurt either) or at least be competent in a new venture to stick around.
Ultimately, I think Timberlake will stick around in the acting game for a while because he’s a bankable name; everyone knows who he is, he’s attractive and has a very engaging personality (which is primarily the reason why he’s so good on Saturday Night Live). He’ll definitely do more than one tour, because how can you pass up all that dough? But, in about 10 years when you scroll is IMDB page, there won’t be anything film-related that jumps out at you. Perhaps in his 40s he’ll have a leading man comeback, who knows.
As I always like to remind myself, Samuel L. Jackson didn’t become a movie star until after he turned 40.
— Chris Brockman