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Good actors can survive only so many bad roles

When you’re as talented as these stars have proven themselves to be, why would you lower yourself to these roles? (Associated Press)
When you’re as talented as these stars have proven themselves to be, why would you lower yourself to these roles? (Associated Press)

If you’re a huge Hollywood actor and you’ve just poured your heart out in an emotionally exhausting dramatic role, taking a job in a dumb thriller in which most of the work is done by a stunt double must feel like going on a vacation.

Sure, everyone needs a break every once in awhile, but a lot of actors have been stuck in vacation mode for too long.

This week, it’s Denzel Washington who’s grabbing a quick paycheck, starring in “2 Guns” opposite Mark Wahlberg. I haven’t seen the movie, but I think it’s safe to say it won’t earn Washington his third Academy Award.

When he’s given a complex part, Washington is one of the best actors around – see his brave, daring, Oscar-nominated performance in last year’s “Flight” – though he spends most of his time playing indistinct characters in forgettable action films. It’s really too bad.

He is, of course, not the only one. I’ve combed through the worst of Hollywood’s most recent offerings and have come up with a few other actors who seem to be slumming. They’ve been good before and will no doubt be good again, but they’re too often settling for less than they’re worth.

Johnny Depp – Once an edgy and exciting actor, Depp has, in the last decade, turned into a parody of himself. Since his first appearance as Capt. Jack Sparrow, he’s devoted most of his career to sequels, remakes and rehashes with increasingly diminished returns. Depp specializes in grand, flamboyant roles – the Mad Hatter, Sweeney Todd, Hunter S. Thompson – but he’s starting to repeat himself. With the fourth “Pirates of the Caribbean” film (talk about a franchise that has run out of gas), Tim Burton’s tone deaf gothic comedy “Dark Shadows,” and the disaster that was “The Lone Ranger,” Depp has been phoning it in for too long. It’d be nice to see him return to quieter, more complex material like “Finding Neverland” or “Donnie Brasco” and start playing real human beings again.

Adam Sandler – That Sandler continues to get movies financed in Hollywood is one of the great tragedies of the modern world. His last five live-action vehicles have an average 12 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes (that’s not counting the even worse movies he merely produces), yet he still maintains a successful career. His latest, “Grown Ups 2,” has already grossed north of $100 million, which is depressing to consider. But when Sandler works with a talented director on an interesting project, he can be a compelling actor: See his startling, unpredictable work in Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Punch Drunk Love,” or his self-deprecating turn as a darker version of himself in Judd Apatow’s “Funny People.” Sandler’s made enough money producing trash, and if he actually started trying, he potentially could have a second career as a respected dramatic actor.

Jennifer Aniston – Aniston is one of the smartest, funniest actresses working today, so it’s been frustrating to see her waste her talents in one lame comedy after another. In movies like “The Bounty Hunter” (where she played opposite Gerard Butler) and “Just Go with It” (another bomb in the Adam Sandler canon), she had to seriously dumb herself down in order to navigate the contrived screenplays. She’s been good in black comedies like “The Good Girl” and “Friends with Money,” where she wasn’t shoehorned into a lame-brained plot, and her supporting role in the recent hit “Horrible Bosses” proved that she can still be funny and unhinged. If only she could find a movie that played to her abilities rather than stifling them.

Will Smith – Although he’s still a major star and one of the highest-paid actors in Hollywood, Smith’s recent choices have all been pretty lukewarm; he hasn’t taken a real risk in a long time. “I Am Legend,” “Hancock” and “Men in Black 3” were all big budget disappointments, and if the rumored sequels to “I, Robot” and “Bad Boys” ever get made, then Smith’s string of uninspired cash-ins will only continue. But none of those films compares to Smith’s last effort, the M. Night Shyamalan-directed “After Earth,” which was savaged by critics and died at the box office. Smith’s career will probably recover, but hopefully the universal disregard for “After Earth” taught him that no amount of audience good will can support his ponderous vanity projects.

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