Last night, while I was waiting for Top Chef, I decided to watch Devil on HBO On Demand. In case you don’t know this masterpiece, it’s mostly set in the elevator of a Philadelphia office building. The elevator gets stuck, and one by one, the five people in it are murdered. Because one of the passengers is Satan.
This is a pretty good idea for a movie—a supernatural update on the claustrophobic suspense of Lifeboat and other such tales. But the good idea gets trampled by the execution.
Consider that we learn about the Devil’s presence from a building security guard who is watching the elevator madness unfold on closed-circuit television. He proves the Devil’s nearby by dropping a piece of toast on the floor. When it lands jelly-side down, he says, “See? When he’s around, things always go wrong. The toast lands jelly-side down.”
This is not played as a joke. Jellied carpeting is considered proof that El Diablo is in on the grounds.
I could spend more time dissecting this movie’s awfulness—what’s up, African-American with a criminal past and Hispanic gentleman who believes in “spirits!”—but the fact is, I wasn’t surprised it was awful. You see, it was executive produced and based on a story by M. Night Shayamalan. His name alone signals hackery.
That wasn’t always so, of course. There was a time when Shayamalan was a Golden God in Hollywood and with audiences. But now, he’s destroyed that goodwill.
And that got me thinking: Who else has pissed away the love they so rightfully earned? Who else is close to doing so?
I’m pleased to present this round-up of goodwill squanderers. Can you think of any more? Let’s discuss!
(Caveat: They have to have ruined themselves through their work and not through their tabloid behavior. Lindsay Lohan and Mel Gibson are not who we’re talking about here.)
Why We Used to Love Him: The Sixth Sense, y’all. It’s more than just a twist ending: It’s an elegant film that blends chilling suspense with nuanced writing and performances. That scene where Toni Collette breaks down in the car is memorable because it’s so human, not because it involves the ghost of her mother. The love continued through Unbreakable, which is imperfect but memorable, and Signs, which is cheesy and hokey but sometimes really scary.
When The Trouble Started: ‘Round about The Village, which intensified the creaky logic and self-righteous puffery of Signs. From there, Shayamalan clearly decided he was going to bless us with the wisdom of his films, which meant he payed less attention to story than to noxious moralizing. See: The Lady in the Water and The Happening.
Where We Are Now: At this point, the dude’s ego is even less endurable because his once-impeccable filmmaking has gotten sloppy. The Last Airbender? Please. Plus, he has the audacity to suggest that Devil is just “part one” of “the Night Chronicles,” as though the world needs more half-assed horror films.
Goodwill Levels: Entirely destroyed
Why We Used to Love Him: Well, American Graffiti is a lovely, Oscar-nominated film that understands the bittersweet truth about growing up in… oh, okay. Star Wars.
When The Trouble Started: Honestly? Ewoks. Additional warning flares were shot when Lucas emerged from decades of behind-the-scenes special effecting to re-release his original trilogy with added scenes and altered effects. Couldn’t he leave well enough alone? But the death blow came when he unleashed the boring, horribly written, and terribly acted prequel trilogy. Is there any adult in the world who truly likes these movies?
Where We Are Now: Lucas has released 8 million versions of Star Wars, each time implying that he either doesn’t understand or doesn’t care why people loved the original films. His tinkering has almost made it impossible to remember what was so great about these movies to begin with, and by fucking up one of the most beloved pop culture touchstones of the last century, he has made a lot of people mad. (Oh, and complaining about his fans because they don’t support his endless bullshit is not a great way to get people back on his side.)
Goodwill Levels: Entirely destroyed
Why We Used to Love Him: Come on! He was the indie-cool actor of the 80s. From Valley Girl to Raising Arizona to Moonstruck, he was always turning in exciting work in offbeat films. And then in 1995, he delivered on all that promise with his Oscar-winning turn in Leaving Las Vegas, which hasn’t lost any of its devastating power. And just to prove what a good guy he was, he occasionally shifted his indie gaze toward popcorn movies like Con Air. They were disposable, sure, but they were fun…
When The Trouble Started: … until they were all we had left. By 2002, Cage’s Oscar-nominated turn in Adaptation seemed like a distraction from his boundless enthusiasm for crap. Reflect, if you dare, on Cage’s recent CV: Knowing, Snake Eyes, 8MM, Gone in Sixty Seconds, Next, The Weather Man, The Wicker Man, Bangkok Dangerous, Season of the Witch, Drive Angry, and the one-two punch of the National Treasure movies.
If Cage’s career had started in 1996, the year he made The Rock, then he would seriously be enshrined as the worst movie star of our the last 15 years.
Where We Are Now: Cage is so deep in this rut that he may never get out. Instead of filming a spiritual sequel to Leaving Las Vegas, he’s filming a literal sequel to Ghost Rider, which was already the least essential superhero movie of all time. It’s possible that his upcoming film The Frozen Ground, based on the true story of an Alaskan serial killer, will be good, but since it co-stars John Cusack, his fellow squanderer of 80s cred, the odds are working against it.
Still: It’s hard to forget that this man can really act when he wants to.
Goodwill Levels: On life support. But the memory of the great films is strong enough to sustain mild hope that another will emerge.
Why We Used to Love Her: Who didn’t love her? She was Gal of Our National Dreams! So spunky and cute and approachable and sweet and smart! When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle proved she could win our hearts, while Courage Under Fire and When a Man Loves a Woman suggested she could handle dramatic roles.
When The Trouble Started: I’d say she and Tom Hanks both started on downward slope with You’ve Got Mail, which was one visit too many to their cutsie-poo well. (Hanks’ descent didn’t kick off in earnest, however, until The Terminal.) After that, Ryan showed little understanding of what made her appealing. Her comedies became shrill (Hanging Up, The Women) and her dramas became weirdly dark (In The Cut, Against The Ropes.) If we want dark, we’ll go to Jodie Foster, thank you. We prefer Dramatic Meg Ryan to be nobly wounded or neurotic.
The real downside of these films, though, was how they exposed Ryan’s limited facility as a performer. Around 2000, people were claiming her Dennis-Quaid-cuckolding affair with Russell Crowe could harm her career, but that wouldn’t have mattered if she’d picked projects that showcased her particular strengths or if she’d been able to handle the material she did choose.
Where We Are Now: You may have heard that it’s hard for older women in Hollywood. Even Julia Roberts is struggling now, while Julianne Moore and Annette Bening and Laura Linney seem to be handling the dramatic roles just fine, thanks. That leaves Ryan without much to do.
Goodwill Levels: Perhaps “squandered” is the wrong word here. Perhaps we should say her goodwill has simply been overshadowed by our struggle to remember who she is.
Why We Used to Love Him: Um… he was hot as hell. And he was tortured, brooding, and sensitive. And he brought those qualities to tortured, brooding, and sensitive movies like Edward Scissorhands and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. And when he went mainstream, he did it by creating Captain Jack Sparrow with a performance so strange that no one else could have gotten away with it. That led to Oscar nominations and the amazing fact that an “outsider star” had become a regular star without losing his outsider status.
When The Trouble Started: But think about it… when was the last time Depp delivered a really great performance or appeared in a truly exciting film? Sweeney Todd was pretty good, but even that was four years ago. Otherwise, Deeps has been serving up reheated versions of his own persona, whether he’s making the 500th Pirates movie or pantsing around in yet another self-consciously rebellious movie about Hunter S. Thompson. And you know what? Ricky Gervais was right to mock The Tourist. It sucked. So did Alice in Wonderland and the interminable Public Enemies.
Where We Are Now: These days, Depp shows up at the Golden Globes using a bullshit British accent. He also seems disinterested in bathing, and while that’s hot on a twentysomething, it’s just sad on a man approaching 50. His upcoming films also suggest that his autopilot is still in charge. Dark Shadows may be good, but it may be another half-baked genre exercise. And you can practically see the tongue sticking out of The Lone Ranger‘s cheek.
Goodwill Levels: Slipping. Depp needs to make a great movie really soon, or his free pass may be revoked. And a cameo in 21 Jump Street is not what I mean.