The Least Convincing Action Heroes in Movie History


We don’t know about you, but the first time we laid our eyes on Tyler Perry, decked out in his full Madea drag, our first thought was Yeah, ha ha, fine, but why isn’t that guy in a cop movie? Well, at last, our moment has arrived; tomorrow, theaters nationwide will welcome Alex Cross, a reboot of the James Patterson adaptations, with Mr. Perry taking over for Morgan Freeman. The idea of that actor match-up is sketchy enough, but with director Rob Cohen (the esteemed filmmaker behind xXx, Stealth, and the original Fast and the Furious) at the helm, Patterson’s brainy sleuth has been reimagined as a shotgun-wielding badass. Well, sorry, but we’re not buying it. After the jump, a closer look at Mr. Perry and a few other folks who we don’t quite buy as action heroes.

Tyler Perry, Alex Cross

Say what you will about Perry’s limited skills as a writer/director (and they are mighty limited), you can’t begrudge the guy his versatility; he typically plays more than one role in his films, and does them fairly capably. If only he were working with better filmmakers than himself — and that doesn’t happen in Cross. Perry seems painfully ill-at-ease as the title character, in his pre-FBI Detroit cop days; he carries his shotgun as though he’s never seen one before, and his action scenes primarily showcase a series of weird facial tics that we’re to misinterpret as a tough-guy grimace. Meanwhile, his hand-to-hand fight scenes with Matthew Fox (chewing scenery as though it were coated with cinnamon sugar) are carefully shot and edited so that we seldom actually see Perry deliver a punch. His performance isn’t a total washout — he delivers on the big melodramatic beats in the second act. But then again, that’s what he’s comfortable doing.

Chris Klein, Rollerball

Mr. Klein has been through a bit of a roller-coaster ride, fame-wise, but here’s the thing: if you had a major role in Election, you pretty much get a lifetime pass from us. (Don’t push your luck, though, Witherspoon.) That role — his first — pretty much set the boundaries for the kind of characters he could do convincingly: good-natured fellas who were a little on the dopey side. And while his characters in Election and the American Pie franchise were jocks, neither properly prepared audiences for the idea of Klein as a tough guy athlete pushed too far in John McTiernan’s unfortunate remake of Norman Jewison’s Rollerball. In the decade that followed that loud flop, he made other attempts to broaden his profile (including another action lead, in something called Street Fighter: The Legend of Chu-Li which we’re not even going to pretend to have seen) before finally giving up, as his “classmates” did, and cashing in on ’90s nostalgia with the unfortunate American Reunion.

Dennis Rodman, Double Team/Simon Sez

Here’s the thing about action movies in the ’90s: they’d put just about anybody in ’em. The fact that a former bodybuilder became the biggest movie star in the land (in spite of his total lack of any acting ability — or reasonable diction — whatsoever) sent movie producers scurrying to all corners for the next Schwarzenegger, with wrestlers, footballers, and martial arts “stars” of all stripes getting a shot at silver screen stardom. And if you came with your own built-in notoriety, all the better — or at least, that’s the best explanation we can come up with for Dennis Rodman’s brief yet inexplicable stint as an action lead. Sure the guy had name recognition, and bad-boy rep that might draw curiosity viewers. But he was also a singularly wooden screen presence, mumbling his terrible dialogue and barely committing to the ridiculous events around him. Rodman did two action movies — Double Team with Jean-Claude Van Damme and Simon Sez, alongside the good ol’ Dane Cook — before going back to his full time job as cautionary tale and occasional punchline.

Shaquille O’Neal, Steel

So that thing about how they were giving anybody an action movie in the ’90s? Go ahead and use that to explain away that weird fever that gripped Hollywood somewhere around ’96-’97, when people decided Shaquille O’Neal was going to be a Movie Star. To be fair, he’s not half bad in his film debut, the 1994 Nick Nolte drama Blue Chips — but he’s also playing a hot young basketball star, and there’s an old saying about how everyone has at least one great performance in them (as themselves). But he followed it up with the mirthless, baffling “family movie” Kazaam — yes, the Shaq-is-a-genie movie — and then came Steel, starring Shaq as a military weapons designer (uh huh) who leaves the government on moral grounds (go on), only to discover street gang are using his weapons (sure), which prompts him to build a suit of armor and fight back (like you do). Unsurprisingly, Steel tanked (sorry), and O’Neal stuck to what he did best.

Pamela Anderson, Barb Wire

Barb Wire was supposed to be the big movie-star breakthrough for Pamela Anderson — or, as she was christened at the time, Pamela Anderson Lee. Adapted from Chris Warner’s comic book series, Barb Wire cast Lee as the title character, a tough-talking bounty hunter and bar owner with a specialty in going deep undercover as strippers and hookers. Oh, and she doesn’t like being called “babe.” The premise was probably doomed from the start — particularly since the film’s screenwriters decided to try to make it into some kind of a post-apocalyptic Casablanca, with Anderson in the Bogie role. Simply put, Anderson ain’t no Bogie; acting talent was never much used as an explanation for her stardom, but she’s particularly dreadful here, her performance all at the same dead pace and inflection. None of which would matter if she were some sort of ass-kicking action hero — but the “action” beats are so clunkily staged and poorly edited that there’s never a moment’s persuasion that bone-and-plastic Anderson is doing much in the way of real damage.

Martin Lawrence, Bad Boys I-II

When then-upstart director Michael Bay set his cast for the buddy cop movie Bad Boys, he took a risk: he was casting two comic actors in what were, ultimately, action roles. Sure, rapper-turned-sitcom-star Will Smith and standup-turned-sitcom-star Martin Lawrence had plenty of Lethal Weapon Lite repartee (if memory serves, there was a lot of discussion w/r/t one eating in the other’s car), but Bay was — foreshadowing! — ultimately more interested in chases and shoot-outs and explosions and running with guns than he was in character-based wisecracks. As far as his casting bet paying off, well, one outta two ain’t bad. While Smith smoothly slid into his action-hero skin, Lawrence’s serious beats played funnier than his comic ones. And that goes double for the ridiculous sequel, which placed him in the midst of even more overblown explosions and shoot-outs.

Jay Leno, Collision Course

Of course, there is something to be said for the idea that Lawrence was merely playing the “comic relief” half of the buddy-cop equation, as Eddie Murphy and Jim Belushi and Billy Crystal and Dan Aykroyd (Loose Cannons — look it up!) had before him. But those films treated their comic halves primarily as jokesters, and if they had badass moments — like Murphy’s trip to the country bar — you believed them. But some people just aren’t credible movie cops, and that brings us to your mom’s favorite late night TV host, Jay Leno. Yes, Leno was once considered a possible movie star, but his career in the moving pictures — as anything except himself, cracking a bad joke on a television to assure us that the film’s fictional events are “newsworthy” — started and ended with Collision Course. This 1989 “action/comedy” teamed Leno with Pat “Mr. Miyagi” Morita, as a pair of cops from different cultures, teamed up against their will, who initially hate each other, but (hang on, this gets cuh-razy) develop a begrudging respect and a real partnership. Can you imagine such a thing? Of course you can, but you won’t be able to take Leno seriously as a tough-guy sorta-racist cop.

Rudy Ray Moore, Dolemite/The Human Tornado

Last week, we sang the praises of our favoritest bad movie of all time evar, the immortal Disco Godfather. Its star, Rudy Ray Moore, was best known for his nightclub persona “Dolemite,” a trash-talking rhyme-master who influenced a generation of future rappers. But Disco Godfather was not his only claim to cinema immortality; he had earlier brought Dolemite to the screen, in the ultra-ultra-super-low budget (no, seriously, it looks like it cost about ten bucks) action/comedy that bore his name. In that film and its sequel The Human Tornado (as, as Moore calls it in the trailers, “The Human Tornada”), Moore decided to cash in on the kung-fu craze by making his alter ego a fierce fighting machine. Only problem was, Moore had never studied the martial arts — and, well, you can tell. Suffice it to say he’s a good deal more persuasive spouting couplets than he is throwing karate chops.

Those are the action heroes who left us unconvinced — let us know yours in the comments!