Still one of the biggest stars in the world, Angelina Jolie is undeniably a talented actress, something the Academy rubber-stamped when they gave her a Best Supporting Actress trophy for "Girl, Interrupted." But as talented as she is, she doesn't appear to be a good judge of scripts exactly; her post-Oscar resume, with a few exceptions ("A Mighty Heart," "The Good Shepherd," maybe "Beowulf" and "Mr. & Mrs Smith" if we were feeling especially generous) is like taking a trawl through some of the worst-reviewed films of the '00s. And she got started pretty soon, signing on not long after her Academy victory to topline the video game adaptation "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider." In a way, Jolie was a fair choice for the pneumatic Indiana Jones knock-off; she had clear action chops, looked the part, and could pull off a decent British accent. But that didn't make the finished product any less terrible -- an expensive, but uninvolving bore more concerned with its elaborate clock-punk scenery and idiotic action scenes than anything resembling story or character. She followed it up swiftly with another stinker, reteaming with her "Gia" director Michael Christofer on the spectacularly bad period erotic thriller "Original Sin," with Antonio Banderas. The terrible choices just kept coming over the next few years -- "Life Or Something Like It," "Beyond Borders," "Taking Lives," "Shark Tale," "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow," "Alexander," "Changeling," "Wanted," "Salt," "The Tourist." Let's hope she's used the four year break between the last of those and next year's "Maleficent" to rethink her approach to picking screenplays...
Before winning her Oscar in 2007 for "The Queen," Helen Mirren had been admirably averse to selling out. There were the occasional eyebrow-raising Hollywood project ("The Fiendish Plot Of Fu Manchu," "2010," "Teaching Mrs. Tingle"), but nothing that truly stunk of a paycheck. That changed almost as soon as she stepped off the Oscar podium, though. Only weeks after scoring her statue, she teamed up with Jerry Bruckheimer, joining the cast of the family-friendly Nicolas Cage sequel "National Treasure: Book Of Secrets." Science has yet to explain how Nicolas Cage could possibly be the product of the DNA of Jon Voight (who gets to deliver the spectacular non sequitur "What is it about treasure that makes history so fascinating") and Mirren, but that's the case in Jon Turteltaub's bloated, ridiculous sequel. Mirren certainly brightens things up when she appears halfway through the film (she does appear to be actually conscious, unlike Ed Harris, who plays the villain by exactly replicating performances he's given before), but it's still clearly nothing much more than an excuse to buy a second home (as was her next role in the failed fantasy franchise-starting "Inkheart"). But, at least she gets to have a little more fun in those "Red" movies.
Famously, Jack Palance took to the stage to do one-armed pushups when he won the Best Supporting Actor prize for "City Slickers," believing that much of Hollywood thought he was too old, and trying to prove otherwise. But given that the next film he signed on to was "Cyborg 2," maybe he shouldn't have bothered. We can only assume that no offers came in for the veteran actor, because that's the only reason we can imagine he'd agree to make Michael Schroeder's film, a sequel-in-name-only to the 1989 Jean Claude Van Damme "Terminator"/"Robocop" knock-off. The film stars a 17-year-old Angelina Jolie, in her first lead role, as Cash, a prototype cyborg assassin filled with liquid explosives (yup), who, guided by her cyborg mentor Mercy (Palance) and aided by trainer Colton (a post "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" Elias Koteas), sets out to take down her evil creators. Palance, to his credit, isn't actually on screen all that much (he can communicate through any electronic device, and so features mostly as a voice and close-ups of his eyes and mouth), until he pops up at the end, firing machine guns wildly and eventually blowing up. And he's easily the most entertaining thing on screen when he does arrive, although that's not saying an awful lot. It's a direct-to-video movie in all but name (Trimark did in fact give it a theatrical release in November 1993), and is worth watching about as much you'd imagine a movie called "Cyborg 2" would be.
After his first Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for "The Usual Suspects" in 1996, Spacey made some smart choices -- "L.A. Confidential" and the lead in the above-average actioner "The Negotiator." However, by the time that Spacey won his Best Actor Oscar for "American Beauty" in 2000, his picks had already started to waver. After the buzz for Sam Mendes' film began, Spacey signed onto the sickly ill-conceived melodrama "Pay It Forward," with fellow Oscar winner Helen Hunt. The film was poorly received, but the actor seemed to use it as a model with his next two films (excluding indie "The Big Kahuna"), the equally saccharine "K-Pax," and failed Oscar bait "The Shipping News." The former sees Spacey play Prot, a mental patient who claims to be an alien, while the latter was a Harvey Weinstein-backed adaptation of E. Annie Proulx's Pulitzer Prize winning novel with an all-star cast in the safe hands of director Lasse Hallstrom. "K-Pax" is probably worse; the kind of film you suspect even Robin Williams would turn his nose up at. "The Shipping News" isn't unwatchable (Spacey's even ok in it), but it's mostly boring, failing to capture the strengths of the novel, and proving to be something of a byword for botched, middlebrow prestige fare. Sadly, Spacey's career has mostly continued on similar lines since, though he's currently reminding us all of what he can do with "House of Cards."