Across his 50-year career, Alan Arkin has taken plenty of jobs to pay the bills, but of late ("America's Sweetheart," "Firewall," "The Change-Up"), he's managed to do it in tiny roles with a minimum of fuss. But probably the nadir came in the mid 1990s, long before his recent run of acclaim, in "The Jerky Boys," the big-screen adventure of the once-popular prank callers that nobody in the world asked for. The movie stars Johnny and Kamal, the titular Jerky Boys, as thinly-veiled versions of themselves, two childhood friends from Queens who've amused themselves since they were small by making prank phone calls. But one day they end up ringing Tony Scarboni (Vincent Pastore, soon to be Big Pussy in "The Sopranos"), the right-hand-man of mob boss Ernie Lazarro (Arkin). The film's about as amusing as you'd imagine a feature-length film based around two guys making prank phone calls would be, especially given that Johnny and Kamal are not particularly impressive actors. And while Arkin brings a certain gravitas to his Mafia don, he's visibly sleepwalking through the role. One suspects if Arkin's producer character in "Argo" had gotten this script, it'd have gone straight in the bin. For what it's worth, the film also includes an out-of-nowhere cameo from Tom Jones, singing Lenny Kravitz's "Are You Gonna Go My Way" for no particular reason.
The two-time Oscar winner is generally deemed to be back on form with "Silver Linings Playbook," which has given Robert De Niro his first Oscar nomination in 20 years. Picking the worst film of his career in the last two decades since his last nod (for "Cape Fear") is a tricky feat; from "Frankenstein" and "The Fan" to "The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle," "15 Minutes," "Showtime," "Analyze That," Godsend," "Stardust" and "Little Fockers," the actor could have filled up this feature on his own. But for us, it's "Hide And Seek" that takes the prize. The 2005 film, directed by Australian actor-director John Polson ("Swimfan"), sees De Niro play David, a psychologist, who moves to a small town with his daughter Emily (Dakota Fanning) after his wife (Amy Irving) commits suicide. But Emily is clearly disturbed, something that seems to derive from her imaginary friend, Charlie. If, for any reason, you have any desire to see this film (and we recommend that you don't), look away now: Charlie turns out to be David's murderous split personality, who killed his wife, and is ready to kill again. It's about as ridiculous as it sounds, but without the self-awareness of something like the far superior "Orphan," and it features a performance by De Niro that's somewhere between disengaged (as David) and just plain terrible (as Charlie). Hopefully 'Silver Linings' will mark the end of this kind of film in his career.
Now that he's an established Oscar-winner, it's so rare that Philip Seymour Hoffman takes a studio gig that it feels like something of an event when he does, as with "Mission: Impossible III" or the upcoming "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire." But it wasn't always so. Before he broke out in the late 1990s, the actor was cropping up in questionable fare like "Twister" and "Red Dragon." Probably the worst such example came in 1998, just as Hoffman was cementing his status with "Happiness" and "The Big Lebowski," in the form of the deeply awful Robin Williams vehicle "Patch Adams." The actor plays Mitch, the snobbish roommate of Williams' title character, who takes against his wacky methods, but is eventually won over by him. Hoffman's clearly been cast to replicate the same sort of thing he did years earlier in "Scent of a Woman," and his performance is somewhat shrill, although we suppose that compared to the atrocities going on elsewhere in the film, his scenes serve as something of a relief. Especially when he does what you're longing to do inside, and shouts at Robin Williams.
Everyone's favorite craggy-faced Texan has hardly proven adverse to a paycheck gig over the years ("Batman Forever," "Captain America: The First Avenger," the endless variations of his character from "The Fugitive"), but has tended to manage to retain some dignity while he pays for his summer home. Not so with "Man of the House," a lousy, already-forgotten comedy where Tommy Lee Jones plays a Texas Ranger who goes undercover in a sorority house, disguised as a cheerleading coach, in order to protect a group of girls who've witnessed a murder. One can't deny that there's a certain degree of inherent comedy in placing Tommy Lee's deadpan mug amongst a group of cheerleaders, but director Stephen Herek doesn't have the faith to just let that play out, adding in a backflipping Cedric The Entertainer, half-a-dozen subplots and a rotten script. The result is that, rather than being amused, you simply pity the star.
After winning his "Inglourious Basterds" Oscar, Christoph Waltz wasted no time in cashing in, replacing Nicolas Cage as the villain in Michel Gondry and Seth Rogen's "The Green Hornet." But that film doesn't quite qualify in our eyes. It's undeniably terrible, but Waltz's bad-guy-with-a-mid-life-crisis is by some distance the best thing in the film. Much more egregious was a film that came later that year, Paul W.S. Anderson's "The Three Musketeers." The Austrian actor is one of about a dozen villains in the "Resident Evil" director's ludicrously overstuffed and overcomplex actioner. Playing Cardinal Richelieu (played in previous films by Charlton Heston, Tim Curry and Stephen Rea, among others), Waltz spends the film plotting on the sidelines and essentially setting things up for a sequel that will never happen, as Mads Mikkelsen's Rochefort takes on most of the villainy duties. By not really giving Waltz anything to do, any reason to be feared -- and crucially, not giving him any decent material to play -- it's a criminal waste of the actor, and as such, much more objectionable than "The Green Hornet."