Friday, May 1, 2009
Ghosts of movies past
It may surprise you to hear this, but Matthew McConaughey is actually a halfway decent actor.
When I first became consciously aware of The Shirtless One, it was while watching the John Grisham adaptation A Time to Kill (1996). He delivers an absolutely knockout courtroom summation near the end, his face buckling believably under the emotion of the words he's speaking. Of course, I should have been aware of him from Dazed and Confused (1993), except it's such a different role that I didn't make the connection. His Wooderson is the classic archetype of the post-high school charming skeezeball. Then there's Reign of Fire (2002), where he's a post-apocalyptic commando with a shaved head, whose eyes burn with fire, and who chews scenery and spits it out with an awesome trashiness.
Unfortunately, Matthew McConaughey has also made 29 other movies.
And a heckuva lot of them are almost exactly like Ghosts of Girlfriends Past.
Forgive me if I make assumptions about a movie I haven't seen, but the repetitive nature of Mr. McConaughey's body of work just begs you to do that.
The second non-Christmas movie based on Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol within the past year -- following the execrable Republican propaganda otherwise known as last October's An American Carol -- Ghosts of Girlfriends Past is Matthew McConaughey at his laziest. You might say "at his paycheckiest." The guy can do other things, he just chooses not to. And to think I criticized Brendan Fraser for sticking to his comfort zone.
Actually, the first ten years of his career were pretty promising, or at the very least, diverse. This is a guy who appeared in everything from The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1994) to Amistad (1997). He's in several movies I really love, including Contact (1997) and Boys on the Side (1995), not to mention those listed at the start of this posting.
But it was right around the time of How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (2003) that McConaughey decided to lose his career in ten movies. Okay, maybe "career" is not the right word, since he's clearly still very castable. How about "critical respect"?
Consider what has come since: Sahara (2005), Failure to Launch (2006 -- you could have a field day with that title), Fool's Gold (2008) and now Ghosts of Girlfriends Past. Even occasional trips off the beaten path, like We are Marshall and a very funny appearance in Tropic Thunder, can't change the public impression of his downward trajectory into abject creative sloth. He liked what he tasted in EdTV (1999) and The Wedding Planner (2001), and those movies quickly became his standard, rather than his change of pace.
And there's just something about that oily, insincere, devil-may-care smirk on the posters that suggests he's pulling one over on us. And he knows it.
Matthew McConaughey is hardly the first actor to become excessively comfortable with his typecasting, and he certainly won't be the last. But I think the reason his current path is so dispiriting is that the character type is so essentially unlikeable. The charming and handsome lothario who won't commit? Really? Is there anything else we can possibly learn about this archetype?
I'm just hoping there's still something more we can learn about Matthew McConaughey. The actor's next announced project on IMDB is called Hammer Down, and it's projected for release in 2011. (I must say, I have a hard time believing he doesn't have at least three more brainless romantic comedies scheduled for release before then.) In Hammer Down, McConaughey plays a former NASCAR driver involved in a heist.
It's different, I'll give him that.
And that's really all I'm looking for.