Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Curse of the Rock Biopic

Before the Curse: Kilmer as the Lizard King
Much like appearing on the front of each year's iteration of EA Sports' Madden franchise all but ensures the featured athlete will suffer a horrific injury, movies about dead rock stars tend to kill, maim or marginalize an actor's career--even after a great performance.  Who needs to talk about Jim Morrison and Club 27 when it's far more entertaining to follow the slow motion train wreck that has become Val Kilmer.

After a slew of respectable films, Kilmer appeared as Morrison in Oliver Stone's 1991 homage The Doors.  (Side note, in college, I discovered that almost every Doors album sounds way better when played at 45 rpm.  Try it sometime.)  Although he made the arguably decent Tombstone two years later, what once appeared to be a promising career slid inexorably down hill, with Kilmer variously appearing in films such as the monumentally awful Island of Dr Moreau (for which he won a Razzie), The Ghost and the Darkness and, more recently, MacGruber.

Kilmer after the Curse

A similar fate befell Lou Diamond Phillips, who played the charismatic Richie Vallons in 1997's La Bamba. Phillips followed up La Bamba with laudable roles in Stand and Deliver and Young Guns in 1988, then poof. With few exceptions, the remainder of Phillips' career found him playing supporting roles in assorted, often short lived, television series (Spin City, Wolf Lake, George Lopez and Law and Order SVU). Other examples of this phenomenon include Angela Bassett in What's Love Got to Do With It, Dennis Quaid in Great Balls of Fire or Jennifer Lopez in Selena to name a few.

However, Exhibits A and B are, without a doubt, The Buddy Holly Story and Walk the Line.  It's as if there is an inverse correlation between the quality of the film and the subsequent degree of suck suffered by the star.  Both of these films were first rate and the former (for which Gary Busey received an Oscar nomination) may be the best rock biopic ever made. Then the Curse fell on Busey, leading to long string of bit parts and a motorcycle accident.  Instead of starring in feature films, Busey's name has become synonymous with "batshit crazy," leaving him only to mug for the camera on Celebrity Rehab.

I'm not sure whether he could out crazy Busey, but Joaquin Phoenix has given it his best shot.  Just four short years after his critically acclaimed portrayal of Johnny Cash, Phoenix appeared on Letterman to announce he was giving up acting to embark on a music career in hip hop.  His next "movie" was the faux documentary I'm Still Here, which was either a mockumentary or performance art, but a piece of shit in either case.  His rapping left something to be desired as well.

Who's up for playing Amy Winehouse? Anyone?

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