In fishing, you get a backlash from very bad casting. This happens in movies, too. Lots of good movies are almost spoiled by the wrong actor (or sometimes just a bad actor) in the wrong part.
West Side Story (1961) is going splendidly; dancers are dancing; singers are singing; Jets are Jetting. Enter the wretched Richard Beymer in the pivotal Romeo role and things nearly grind to a halt. Apart from being a bad singer, dancer and actor, and not particularly good looking, he is perfect for the part. What were they thinking ?
In Steel Magnolias (1989) there is a wonderful ensemble cast of women (Julia Roberts, Dolly Parton, Darryl Hannah, Sally Field and Shirley MacLaine) who hang out at the beauty shop in a small Southern town and share their hopes, dreams and heartaches. Olympia Dukakis, with her posturing and utterly phony Southern accent, looks like an escapee from some other movie.
The Hunt for Red October (1990) is splendidly suspenseful and faithful to the book about the possible defection of, or attack on America by, a Soviet submarine. The intrepid Sean Connery is fine as the Russian commander. So are Scott Glenn, James Earl Jones and Sam Neill in supporting roles. And Alec Baldwin is so bad as the American CIA agent he is like fingernails on a blackboard. I note Baldwin was quickly, and wisely, dumped for Harrison Ford in all subsequent Tom Clancy films. And, of course, Baldwin went on to be a huge success in 30 Rock and dozens of films.
Meg Ryan is a pretty good actress (When Harry Met Sally; Sleepless in Seattle) so what are we to make of her dreadful performance in Courage Under Fire (1996)? And she is the character the movie is about! She did what the director told her? They wanted another name? Denzel Washington and Matt Damon weren’t big enough? Anyway, she is so bad it sets your teeth on edge and almost wrecks a very good movie.
The Big Easy (1987) is a fine, layered thriller about corruption in New Orleans. Dennis Quaid is perfect as the laid back but sharp as nails detective. Ellen Barkin is so badly miscast as the assistant District Attorney and love interest it’s laughable. In the first place, her slightly trashy good looks are all wrong for this part. In the second place, her Southern accent reminds you more of Fran Drescher than Jessica Tandy. She was good in Diner and Desert Bloom. She is not in this one.
All of the movies in this column are available on DVD, so see for yourself! None are suitable for children under 12.
* Rusty Hammond has been writing a movie column called Mr. Movie since 1996 and is an emergency district judge. Visit his blog at hammondmrmovie.blogspot.com.