Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Steve Buscemi can make your film better...


He's widely praised for his fine acting ability, is a cult icon, has made appearances in great movies, and seems to be the most commonly used example for people claiming that "good actors don't have to be good looking." Steve Buscemi is many things to many people and to certain directors and producers he seems to mean an awful lot. He has made multiple appearances in the works of Quentin Tarantino, the Coen brothers, Robert Rodriguez, and...umm...Adam Sandler. These collaborations (not counting those with Sandler) have provided wonderful results, with Buscemi giving memorable performances in cult classic films. But if you tear yourself away from these wonders, you will be reminded of the fact that, like most film stars, Steve Buscemi is fallible, and, like most film stars, he has been in some trash.

This is where we come to the Steve Buscemi factor. Steve Buscemi, traditionally being a supporting actor, rarely gets enough screen time to completely save a movie and some films are simply beyond saving no matter how awesome the star. But, like Christopher Walken (the master of improving bad films) he has the rare ability of making crap films almost watchable by his mere presence alone. This is particularly useful for his appearances in Adam Sandler films but extends to much of his work.

Perhaps the finest example of this is the bloated cheese-fest that is Armageddon. It had its problems from the start, with a cast that, on paper, seemed to be high quality, but any good will towards this was completely negated by the acting of Ben Affleck. It didn't help that they were all given incredibly two dimensional characters either (Peter Stormare's mad Russian anyone?). The only actor to really emerge with any credit was Steve Buscemi, who, despite essentially phoning in a performance as the accident-waiting-to-happen joker of the pack managed to be more entertaining than the rest of the cast put together. He provided some much needed entertainment when Michael Bay realised that once we were past the exciting space mission we had to watch some people drill a big hole for a while and if it had not been for him Armageddon would have failed to convince me that Earth needed saving at all.

Another of Buscemi's occasional stabs at the action genre, Con Air, was saved by the genius who cast him as a serial killer. Nothing against Buscemi here, but he has made a career out of playing the creepy guy (Con Air wasn't his first serial killer role), and someone clearly noticed this and decided it was time to crank it up to eleven by casting him as a guy that wears severed heads as hats. Con Air wasn't an awful concept, it just had to cope with the burden of Nicolas Cage with a ridiculous accent and bad hair (sadly not the last time we would see this). Ving Rhames and John Malkovich made convincing psychopaths, but were nowhere near in the same league as Buscemi. With the exception of Dave Chappelle's skydiving, it was Buscemi that enabled me to see past Nicolas Cage. Perhaps it was the absence of Steve that stopped me from seeing past Nicolas Cage in Ghost Rider or Next.

There are other examples such as the Spy Kids sequels, where Buscemi only has small supporting roles, perhaps neutering his usual style (who thought he belonged in a kids movie!?) where the Steve Buscemi effect can still take hold and raise a smile in a sea of misery. Be it his tour de force as 'Homeless guy' in Big Daddy or his valiant efforts as we stared glum faced at the utter disappointment that was Escape From L.A., Steve Buscemi can make your bad film better by simply turning up (but we'd much rather he stuck to the good ones).

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