So Bad It's Good: Three Films Featuring Musicians Turned Actors to Add to Your Movie Watch (or Rewatch) Lists
Zooey Deschanel and Mark Wahlberg in 'The Happening' (2008)
Anyone tuning into March’s So Bad It’s Good watchalong of Anaconda is in for a treat! Jennifer Lopez and Ice Cube battling a giant 90’s era CGI snake, a pre-fame Owen Wilson *spoiler alert* getting swallowed whole by said snake, and John Voight giving the (acting?) performance of his life as a deranged sociopath. How could that all add up to anything but a masterpiece? You will have to join us at 6 p.m. PST on March 13 to find out!
J.Lo and Ice Cube’s performances in Anaconda got me thinking about others who seem to effortlessly make the transition from music to movies. There’s a long history of performers successfully making that leap, but luckily for fans of so bad they’re good films, for every Cher in Moonstruck there is a Mariah Carey in Glitter. In keeping with the theme of “So Bad It’s Good,” let’s take a look at a few of my favorites!
Independence Day (1996)
You can’t talk about musicians turned actors without mentioning Will Smith. Smith began his entertainment career as one half of the hip hop duo, DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, but it was his starring role in the sitcom The Fresh Prince of Belair that solidified him as a household name. Smith immediately took to acting and reportedly told his agent that he wanted to be the biggest movie star in the world. Anyone who watched that scene from season four of Fresh Prince in which Will embraces Uncle Phil as he copes with the loss of his absentee father knew that he had the acting ability to make that happen (I am getting choked up just thinking about it).
It wasn’t just Smith’s acting that catapulted him to super stardom, he also researched what being the biggest movie star in the world actually meant. Part of that research involved watching the 10 biggest box office successes of all time to learn what they had in common. According to Smith, the commonalities were special effects, creatures, and a love story, so he set out to find scripts that checked those boxes and quickly hit the jackpot with Independence Day.
I was a nine-year-old avid Fresh Prince fan when Independence Day was released, and needless to say, I thought it was the greatest movie ever made. Though many critics didn’t quite agree with my preadolescent assessment, that didn’t stop movie goers from flocking to theaters to watch Will Smith punch an alien in the face on the silver screen. Independence Day immediately started smashing box office records and ultimately landed as the second highest-grossing film ever at that time.
Some critics were able to appreciate Independence Day as the over-the-top blockbuster that it was, but reviews were mixed overall. In perhaps the film’s most memorable scene, Bill Pullman playing the President of the United States, rallies his troops with what can only be described as the best pep talk of all time, though some weren’t so inspired. Years later, a BBC film review called Pullman’s speech “the most jaw-droppingly pompous soliloquy ever delivered in a mainstream Hollywood movie,” and British film magazine Empire’s readers voted it the cheesiest movie moment of all time… harsh. Perhaps the British are still a little bitter about the holiday from which Independence Day draws its name. Though, even I must admit that Independence Day is a little cheesy. But cheesiness be damned, I plan to watch Independence Day every Fourth of July for the rest of my life, and you probably should too.
The Happening (2008)
Like Anaconda, The Happening features not one, but two musician actor dual threats; Mark Wahlberg of Funky Bunch fame, and Zooey Deschanel of She & Him, just to name one of her many music projects. Unfortunately, it goes about as well as you would imagine a duet between the two might. The Happening is a film by M. Night Shyamalan who had years earlier burst onto the scene with his wildly successful film, The Sixth Sense, which was nominated for six Academy Awards. Shyamalan quickly became known for his dark style and twist endings, and he stayed busy in the years following The Sixth Sense, putting out nearly a film every year. But with each effort he seemed to be running out of steam and each twist got a little less twisty.
Then came The Happening in 2008 with perhaps the most underwhelming twist of them all. I don’t want to spoil it, but let’s just say it results in Wahlberg having a hilarious heart-to-heart conversation with a house plant. It also manages to hit the themes of climate change and terrorism pretty hard. It’s like the 2000’s all wrapped up in one strange package.
All this combined with stilted dialogue and a complete lack of chemistry between Wahlberg and Deschanel make for a wonderful disaster that is, in my opinion, better viewed as a dark comedy than the psychological thriller it was intended to be. Please be aware that it contains depictions of suicide and self-harm which may be disturbing for some, but if you are able, I recommend giving The Happening a watch.
Street Fighter (1994)
Movies based on video games: What a treasure trove of “So Bad It’s Good” content! Since the first video game-inspired movie, 1993’s Super Mario Bros., Hollywood has been trying, and mostly failing, to capture the magic of our favorite games.
In 1994, game developer Capcom decided to try its hand at bringing its wildly popular Street Fighter to the big screen. What followed was a production so fraught with disasters that it’s a surprise the film was completed. Yet not only was it finished, it was also AWESOME! Or at least I, being a seven-year-old Street Fighter button smasher at the time, thought so (and still do).
Capcom spared no expense in putting together their cast and crew, landing action superstar Jean-Claude Van-Damme for the lead role of Colonel Guile. Opposite Van-Damme was the insanely talented character actor Raul Julia as the villainous General Bison, and they scored Steven E. de Souza to direct, who was fresh off writing everyone’s favorite Christmas movie, Die Hard. All that was missing was a charming young pop star. Enter Kylie Minogue.
By the time Minogue was cast as Cammy, Guile’s primary ally in taking down General Bison, she had been a fixture on the Australian pop music scene for nearly a decade with bubblegum hits like “I Should Be So Lucky” and her cover of “The Loco-Motion.” Of course, she has since gone on to have many worldwide hits and an enduring music career. Though she had done some acting previously, Street Fighter was by far her most high-profile film at that time. She was reportedly cast at the last minute because the Australian Actors Guild pressured Capcom to hire an Australian actor as much of the filming took place down under. As luck would have it, de Souza had recently seen Kylie on the cover of a magazine and felt she was right for the role. Though her role was relatively small, Minogue played an important part on set showing cast and crew a good time in her home country and helping to ease tensions on the tumultuous production.
Which brings me to those disasters I mentioned earlier. Unfortunately, there are not enough words in this blog to get to all of them, but I will touch on a few.
Van-Damme’s massive salary ate up much of the film’s budget which forced important cuts elsewhere, and the only thing bigger than his salary was his ego. Crew members recall him refusing to emerge from his trailer until he had time to work out in order to pump up his muscles before filming. Often, he just disappeared forcing scenes to be cut altogether. Filming also took place during Van-Damme’s struggles with addiction and he later revealed that he had a $10,000 a week cocaine habit at the time. Not only were there issues with the film’s big star, but also with its location. Portions filmed in Thailand were frequently derailed by political instability in the region. Scenes had to be altered or cut altogether, and they even had to scrap the use of helicopters for fear of provoking military conflict.
But that all paled in comparison to the most tragic issue, Raul Julia’s illness. Julia was battling stomach cancer when he accepted the role and filming had to be delayed for weeks so that he could build enough strength for the performance. Perhaps too sick to take on such a role, he reportedly took the part because his kids were huge fans of the game and it was an opportunity to spend time with his family who accompanied him on set. If Julia had any inclination that Street Fighter was anything short of a masterpiece, you would never know it. He truly put everything he had into the part of the maniacal General Bison, and sadly it would be his last role as he passed shortly after filming wrapped. Ideally, Julia’s final role would have been in a movie that is good in the traditional sense, but in my opinion his turn as Bison showed the type of actor he truly was. One that, despite countless bizarre hurdles, was capable of turning in an award-worthy performance and singlehandedly elevating a would-be disaster.
Raul Julia’s inspired performance alone makes Street Fighter worth watching. But make no mistake, it has all the elements that make a movie “So Bad It’s Good,” including cheesy one liners, over-the-top fight scenes, and lots of laughs (some of them intentional!). So, do yourself a favor and dust off your VCR to give it a watch. Just don’t be surprised when you end up bitter at your mom for talking you into selling your Super Nintendo and copy of “Street Fighter II” at a garage sale in 2003. I may or may not be projecting…