It is going to become painfully obvious that I have spent waaay too much time in a darkened theater as I share with you some horrible screen pairings it has been my misfortune to suffer through, first as an avid filmgoer since birth and second, as a film critic for 15 years. These are in no particular order, and the reasons I feel these were horrible pairings are subjective, to be sure, but let me begin.
In no particular order, the films are:
1) “The Human Stain” – Anthony Hopkins and Nicole Kidman
2) “Eyes Wide Shut” – Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman
3) “Dracula” – Gary Oldman and Winona Ryder
4) “Harold and Maude” – Ruth Gordon and Bud Cort
5) “The Way We Were” – Robert Redford and Barbra Streisand
6) “The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea” – Kris Kristofferson and Sarah Miles
7) “6 Days, 7 Nights” – Harrison Ford and Anne Heche
8) “Fair Game” – Billy Baldwin and Cindy Crawford
9) “A Star Is Born” – Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson
10) “At Long Last Love” – Cybill Shpeherd and Burt Reynolds
Let me explain.
There are some very great actors/actresses on this list who, nevertheless, had absolutely no onscreen chemistry with their leading man or leading lady. Sometimes, I fear, it is because that actor (or actress) is simply better suited to character actor parts. Other times, it is quite surprising, because the individuals in question were actually “an item.”
Take Nicole Kidman on this list, for example. I have listed her starring role in Stanley Kubrick’s last complete film, “Eyes Wide Shut,” where she starred opposite her then husband Tom Cruise as Alice Hartford (1999). I have also listed her opposite the much-too-old-for-her Anthony Hopkins in her role as the semi-literate Faunia Farley, opposite Anthony Hopkins’ Coleman Silk in “The Human Stain,” a 2003 Robert Benton-directed film (script by Nick Meyer, an old college classmate) based on a 2000 Philip Roth novel. Casting Anthony Hopkins as a (secretly) black man and Nicole Kidman as a cleaning woman (semi-literate, as well) was just the beginning of this film that garnered some “rotten tomato” awards. It was as thoroughly miscast as it is humanly possible to be, and the premises upon which the film rested were also dated. (Coleman is railroaded from his job as a university professor for asking, of some MIA African-American students, in his class, if they were “spooks.”) The idea that Welshman Hopkins is secretly black was hard to swallow. (The younger version of Hopkins was well-played by “Prison Break’s” Wentworth Miller, but even that did not help.) But Nicole was also bad opposite Tom Cruise as Shannon Christie in the 1992 epic “Far and Away” and even before that, in “Days of Thunder” in 1990. Let’s face it. While Nicole Kidman (and certainly Anthony Hopkins) are great actors, everyone has their limits, and when you’re miscast, you’re miscast. Since three of these films involve Kidman opposite Tom Cruise, it would seem that they were a mismatch in more ways than one. No onscreen chemistry. Zip. Zero. Nada.
Second-highest scorer on the “no charisma as sexy lead player in a romance” might go to Gary Oldman, who is a very competent character actor but lacks in the romance department. Following Frank Langella’s mesmerizing role as “Dracula,” he was very disappointing opposite Winona Ryder in that Francis Ford Coppola film, and he wasn’t much better in “The Scarlet Letter” (1995) opposite Demi Moore as the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, nor in the film “Romeo Is Bleeding” (1993) as Jack, opposite the sexy Lena Olin. Where Oldman shines is in work such as his spot-on impersonation of Lee Harvey Oswald in Oliver Stone’s 1991 film “JFK.” As a romantic leading man? Not so much.
Barbra Streisand makes the list twice, once opposite Kris Kristofferson in “A Star Is Born” and once opposite Robert Redford in “The Way We Were.” I blame the lack of “sparks” more on Kristofferson in the first, a role that was first offered to (but turned down by) Elvis Presley. Kristofferson has all the charismatic acting ability of a board. He reminds me of an old Keanu Reeves. This is also by way of explaining why “The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea” floundered and sank. More Kristofferson; less Sarah Miles. In “The Way We Were” Streisand/Redford proved that the ugly duckling does not always grow up to become the beautiful swan, and that the saying, “opposites attract” can only carry you so far. It only carried this movie so far, despite Marvin Hamlisch’s best efforts.
“Harold and Maude” is a cult classic, and I loved the flick, but the plot is about a romance between a 20-year-old youth obsessed with death and suicide (Bud Cort) and a 79-year-old woman, played by the indomitable Ruth Gordon. I’m all for cougars, but there are limits.
“6 Days, 7 Nights” was a plot that paired Harrison Ford with Anne Heche, who, at the time, was an ‘out” lesbian. There were absolutely no sparks of any kind between the leads and do we wonder why? Harrison Ford recreating Humphrey Bogart’s role opposite Julia Ormond in “Sabrina” (with Greg Kinnear in the William Holden role) was also not a hit, although the film’s score was awesome.
“Fair Game” had William Baldwin (the thin Baldwin) cast as Detective Max Kirkpatrick and model Cindy Crawford of Dekalb, Illinois trying to segue successfully to the big screen from her lucrative modeling career, playing Kate McQuean. The film is horrible, and Crawford was awful in it.
Last, and perhaps least, Burt Reynolds and Cybill Shepherd somehow got the idea that they could sing and carry a musical in the much-maligned “At Long Last Love” and the less said about that, the better.