Last week as I fought traffic en route to a London Has Fallen screening, I tweeted from the back of a cab, “Out of my way people! I’m running late for a Gerard Butler movie!” It was a silly little joke, a comment to kill time as we idled in the morning rush hour.
The first response came in right away: “said no one, ever,” followed by a torrent of unexpected Butler hate.
One person called him a “bouncer actor,” whatever that means.
Another questioned his ability to effectively disguise his native Scottish accent and many people offered me their condolences.
Why the Butler bashing?
It’s true he is a frustrating movie star. He shares the usual leading man traits that have made Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio superstars.
He’s handsome, talented and built like an action star but he’s been done in time after time by poor choices.
Pitt makes Fight Club, Butler makes Law Abiding Citizen. Leo stars in The Departed, Gerard does Machine Gun Preacher. Years ago the website Gawker placed Butler on movie star probation, calling him a “professional bad decision maker” alongside notable career fritterers Cuba Gooding Jr. and John Travolta. A look at his IMDB page suggests they were on to something.
He’s a utility player, comfortable switching genres the way most of us change our socks. One minute he’s a romantic comedy star, the next he’s choking out bad guys on screen. He’s flirted with Shakespeare and provided voices for cartoons. He’s done sci-fi flicks, musicals and even a rendering of the Anglo-Saxon epic poem Beowulf.
It’s not like he hasn’t enjoyed some very big hits. In 300 he (and his meticulously crafted six-pack) played King Leonidas, a Spartan who led 300 soldiers against the might of the Persian army. It’s the film equivalent of a heavy metal concert — loud, brutal and completely uncompromising — and it made him an action hero.
People have a soft spot for Dear Frankie, his breakout film and the one that turned him into a heartthrob with serious dramatic chops. The four-hankie U.K. tear-jerker about a single mother who resorts to trickery to keep the memory of her late husband alive in her son’s mind put Butler on the world stage.
Other box office bonanzas include playing a charming mobster in the violent Guy Ritchie flick RocknRolla and voicing Viking Stoick the Vast in How to Train Your Dragon.
It’s the other stuff that seems to rub people the wrong way. As a movie reviewer I can attest there are few English language words more terrifying than “New Gerard Butler Romantic Comedy” and I think it is those films that turned my Twitter followers against him.
He’s a good actor but his track record in the rom-com department is particularly grim. Critics hate these movies, calling the handsome Scottish actor’s attempts at mixing love and comedy, “instantly grating,” and “embarrassingly limited.”
But I come to praise Butler, not to bury him. Let’s give him another chance.
I made it to the London Has Fallen screening and can tell you it’s a pretty good action movie. Perhaps even good enough to erase the memory of The Ugly Truth or Playing for Keeps from our collective memories.
I tried hard to pin point exactly the thing that bugged me about this new Gerard Butler romantic dramedy. Thought long and hard and I’ve come to realize that we don’t have enough space here for me to fully explain why this doesn’t work but let’s start with the idea that the women are simply treated as sexed-up plot points and move on from there.
Butler plays George Dwyer, former soccer superstar, now sidelined by injuries. Broke and reduced to selling his own memorabilia to make ends meet, he moves to Virginia to be closer to his ex-wife (Jessica Biel) and their son Lewis (Noah Lomax). When the charming Scot begins coaches his son’s soccer team all the soccer moms (Judy Greer, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Uma Thurman) throw themselves at him, but he has eyes for only one woman—his ex-wife.
The first half-hour is, maybe not promising, but on par for this kind of movie. There’s a glint in Butler’s eye, a few giggles and Dennis Quaid, as the soccer team’s pushy sponsor has the makings of a pretty good someone-you-love-to-hate character.
Then it takes a turn.
George has unresolved feelings for his ex-wife and the movie has unresolved plot points falling from the sky like the tears of the Movie Godz who weep when movies this bad get released. When there is a large sum of money meant to be used for soccer outfits and balls is given to a broke person in the first act, that money must become a plot point by act three, otherwise it becomes a loan and therefore dramatically uninteresting. Loose ends dangle, flapping in the wind and worst of all the female characters are treated as lingerie wearing narrative devices and little else.
Seriously, someone please tell Uma Thurman to saddle up and work with Quentin Tarantino again because this rom com detour she’s taken is leading her nowhere.
It’s not he worst rom com ever—that’s because Katherine Heigl doesn’t make an appearance—but it is a sloppily made movie that relis too heavily on Butler’s trademarked eye twinkle and rakish smile. This time around, however, they’re not enough to save “Playing for Keeps.”
Are there five more terrifying words in the English language than, “New Gerard Butler Romantic Comedy”? Butler is a good actor who makes lots of bad movies but his track record in the rom com department is particularly dire.
Critics hate these movies, calling the handsome Scottish actor’s attempts at mixing love and comedy, “instantly grating,” and “embarrassingly limited.” Only Katherine Heigl (Butler’s co-star in The Ugly Truth, called “ugly-ass crap” by Rolling Stone) has a worse track record.
This weekend he stars in Playing for Keeps the true story of a former sports star who pulls his life together through romance and, let’s hope, comedy.
The reviews have yet to come in for Playing for Keeps, but let’s hope it breaks his rom com track record and delivers some mushy, funny fun.
Rather than dwell on the bad stuff, in this column I’ll look at his more interesting performances—and no, that Jennifer Aniston movie won’t be included!
2002 was the year Butler became famous with big roles in Reign of Fire and Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, opposite Angelina Jolie. Then he developed into a crossover star, taking roles in everything from sci fi flicks (Timeline), to musicals (The Phantom of the Opera) and even a rendering of the Anglo-Saxon epic poem Beowulf (Beowulf & Grendel).
The film that turned him into a heartthrob, but one with serious dramatic chops, was Dear Frankie, a four hankie tearjerker about a single mother who resorts to trickery to keep the memory of her late husband alive in her son’s mind.
It was his next movie, however, that made him (and his meticulously crafted six-pack) a superstar. In 300 he’s King Leonidas, a Spartan who led three hundred soldiers against the might of the Persian army. It’s the film equivalent of a heavy metal concert—loud, brutal and completely uncompromising—and it made him an action hero.
A few years ago the website Gawker placed Butler on movie star probation, calling him a “professional bad decision maker” alongside Cuba Gooding Jr and John Travolta but Hollywood hasn’t been all bad for Butler.
Post 300 highlights include playing a charming mobster in the violent Guy Ritchie flick RocknRolla, voicing Stoick the Vast, the chieftain of a Viking tribe in the animated How to Train Your Dragon and Coriolanus, a modern dress version of a 1608 play by William Shakespeare.