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.
Kathryn Heigl is gorgeous. She’s a blonde bombshell in the tradition of Jean Harlow, a collection of curves, fiery lips and bundled blonde hair that looks as though she just slithered out of a 1950s film noir. She’s also smart, produces her own films and is out spoken about all the right causes. She should be the total package, but the trouble is, on screen, I find her cold. She emanates ice, and not in the classic Alfred Hitchcock cool blonde way. That coldness could work for her in some roles but it is a little hard to swallow in the rom coms she makes between seasons of Grey’s Anatomy.
Her new film, The Ugly Truth, feels like an updated Doris Day / Rock Hudson battle of the sexes; a look at how men and women perceive one another. Heigl is Abby Richter, the terminally single producer of a morning television show. In an effort to boost sagging ratings the station manager hires controversial correspondent Mike Chadway (Gerard Butler). “He is everything that is wrong with television and society,” says Abby. His proudly male chauvinist schtick about how women don’t understand what men want—he’s equal parts Dr. Ruth, Dr. Phil and Hugh Hefner—despite Abbey’s disdain, connects with her audience. They are, in the grand tradition of romantic comedies, oil and water, but despite their differences Abby turns to Mike for hints on how to connect with Colin (Eric Winter), the proverbial good looking doctor next door. Maybe, just maybe, though, love is closer than either of them think…
Movies like The Ugly Truth live or die based on the charm of their stars. Butler can pull off the charismatic rogue role but Heigl grates. It would have been interesting to see Reese Witherspoon or maybe a 1980s vintage Meg Ryan in the same role to judge whether their appeal could rescue this otherwise sad excuse for a rom com.
It’s not just that it is predictable. Originality isn’t a trademark of the genre, so the set up and pay off are expected before the opening credits roll. This one has a few more four letter words than usual but plays out pretty much how you might imagine.
So, if it isn’t the inevitable happy ever after story line that drags The Ugly Truth down, what is it? Well, how about the Three’s Company level dialogue? The lame jokes, writing style and battle of the sexes subject seem to harken back to a different time. Like when Jack, Janet and Crissy were still roommates and bell bottoms were considered cool at the disco. The jokes have been given a makeover but the underlying themes seem twenty years or more of date.
There are a few laughs sprinkled throughout however—the women in the audience I saw this with seemed to find some of Mike’s observations like “For men self improvement stops with toilet training,” hilarious—but if there were any fewer laughs this would simply be a romance, not a romantic comedy. Another scene involving vibrating underwear and a restaurant got some laughs but I thought it was funnier the first time I saw it in When Harry Met Sally.
The Ugly Truth is neither ugly—Heigl and Butler see to that—or truthful—the hackneyed take on relationships sees to that.
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.