Friday, August 1, 2008

The Brendan Fraser Hypothesis

The Mummy: Tomb Of the Dragon Emperor opened today. I have no plans to see it, and the review in The Seattle Times was negative, citing bad dialogue, a trait that's evident in the commercials for the film on television. I've only seen the first installment of the Mummy series, many summers ago, and I actually thought it was quite enjoyable, taking these points into consideration: it was a hot summer night, it was a two-dollar rental from the video store near my house, and I was looking for some quick entertainment. I'm sure this latest installment will reach the top ten in the weekend box office receipts on Sunday, slowly descend as the weeks go on, and will make a quiet DVD debut before Christmas. Also, I'm sure the same can be said for the recently released Journey To the Center Of the Earth. In addition to being harmless, mindless summer blockbusters, these two new films share a common thread: Brendan Fraser.

A couple of months ago, I Netflixed (does anyone have a trademark on this verb yet?) the 1998 film Gods and Monsters, and found it really enjoyable. The acting was strong, and I'm a sucker for what seem to be faithful recreations of Old Hollywood. As I was watching it, I remembered the largely forgotten film The Quiet American. I saw it with a couple of friends at a late Saturday night showing back in 2002. I don't remember too much about it, but I do remember liking it. The reviews were favorable, Michael Caine was nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award, and the film seemed to quickly disappear afterwards. However, now that Mr. Fraser has two summer movies in theaters right now, I feel that audiences are due for another one of his serious dramas. Simply put, we need another installment of "Brendan Fraser and An Old British Actor."

This is not a knock against Mr. Fraser. He always does what's expected of him in any given film, whether it's an action movie or otherwise. However, whenever he's gone in the direction of a serious drama, he's shared the screen with either Ian McKellen or Michael Caine. Also to his credit, his acting when paired up with one of these legends is decent, even if he's just looking like he's deep in thought during the dialogues. Perhaps he's the go-to "buff American foil" when filmmakers have a Caine or McKellen on their hands. (Note: When I discuss Fraser's forays into drama, I omit Crash for two reasons. One, I have not seen the film. Two, despite the fact that the Academy Award for Best Picture cannot be taken seriously sometimes, has there ever been a Best Picture winner that's been forgotten as quickly as Crash?)

The more I think about it, the Fraser/Old British Actor pairings have both followed the same basic acting themes: Fraser is the straight man (no pun intended for Gods and Monsters) to the British stars. While the venerable old actors have more memorable scenes and dialogue, Fraser is more subdued and pensive. In a way, it's a nice subversion of stereotypes. If these movies had been comedies, one would have expected a tired formula of the Ugly American and the Stuffy Brit. As I hinted before, I'm sure it's really a testament to Fraser's screen presence. He never looks out of place, whether he's shooting mummies or engaging in a psychological battle for the affections of a Vietnamese beauty. I think in the future, we should have some control experiments to see if this hypothesis holds any water. I hope that Fraser eventually gets paired up with Gene Hackman and Robert Duvall in two different films, to see how he does with two Old American Actors.

For now, we have to wait until 2009, when the theory takes a bold new turn. Fraser is starring in the fantasy film Inkheart, along with Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren. Fraser on screen with an Old British Actor AND an Old British Actress? I cannot wait.


Pat R said...

Sounds like Tomb of the Dragon Emperor was a lot of what most people expected... Brendan Frasier tries too hard to act, so you can tell he's acting

ArtSparker said...

Curretn films that are like old B-movie films are good for rainy days too. /stargate is one of my favorites for that.

Brendan Fasier has a family - don't think he turns work down. I'm just saying.

James Yates said...

Artsparker, I totally agree with you.

I genuinely like Brendan Fraser...I was hoping for the posting to be a little tongue-in-cheek.

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