The one thing all films have in common is that they contain characters – otherwise they are not films but paintings, photos or reality shows.
Characters do not have to be human, they can be animals, bugs or aliens, but someone (or something) needs to move the plot forward by their actions or dialogue. Even a film about grass growing would inevitably lead to a choice for the viewer, switch off or start rooting for a certain blade to outperform the rest; there’s a reason people bet on snail races you know.
But having characters is the first and only time every film stands on a level playing field. It is what those characters do or how they behave that will define their success or failure. Often this comes down to a combination of script, direction, editing and of course the actor’s portrayal, in TV an actor can grow into a role so that it gradually becomes more comfortable and more a reflection on them as a person, so the character takes on traits, quirks and speech patterns. Think what Russell Brand would do if cast in the role of Ross in Friends. Still think he would be a morose boring git? No chance, he might be a git, but he wouldn’t be near as moribund and lifeless.
Today I will be examining a bunch of characters from films that deserve their own spin off for various reasons. Many of the films here are actually not bad, it’s just that due to editing or the script the character outlined was compartmentalised or restricted. A new film where they are the headline act would give them the chance to shine and expand upon the character, giving us the opportunity to gauge whether they deserved the spotlight or not
Film – Shaft (2000)
Actor – Jeffrey Wright
Jeffrey Wright’s silky voiced, well dressed, heavily accented small time gang leader Peoples Hernandez might have looked and sounded like he came straight off the pages of GQ, right up until he pulled out the ice pick and went to town on your torso.
The John Singleton remake of Shaft was actually quite (unexpectedly) good, with Sam Jackson as the super-cool private eye who’s a sex machine to all the chicks, and Christian Bale as the cold and aloof rich white evil guy. But it was Peoples who stole the picture in a role that could have easily ended up a formulaic and faceless gangbanger.
Not a bad effort considering that he delivered one of his colder speeches whilst sitting upon – and using – his porcelain throne.
Film – Watchmen
Actor – Jackie Earle Haley
I hated Watchmen. Hated it. There were many reasons, but in short I felt the most intriguing and interesting ‘heroes’ were killed off before the film proper even started (Comedian), or relegated unnecessarily to sub-plots, subplots that were actually the best part of the movie.
In Rorschach the Watchmen had the only superhero who was actually superheroing and not moping about the place thinking about how unfair the world was. Rorschach knew it was unfair, harsh and generally all messed up, but at least he had the balls to do something about it. He was a compelling and complicated character in a film that was anything but.
To this end Rorschach suffered the same fate as Wolverine in X-Man or LeBron James in the Cleveland Cavaliers, being the only interesting guy in a crap ensemble you couldn’t care less about. At least Wolverine got his shot – even though it ended up a PG misfire, as I said in my review of Watchmen at the time, “Rorschach is involved in 3 of the best 4 scenes in the entire film, and I would watch his story in a second”. True then, truer now.
Film – Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Actor – Paul Rudd
Forgetting Sarah Marshall was a fine example of Apatowian comedy; develop a skeletal framework of a plot, cast a bunch of character actors and let them riff until something funny happens.
Russell Brand owes the chance to be momentarily married to Katy Perry (and the whole being quite famous thing also) to Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and his sleazy yet good natured rockstar did pretty much steal the show. But he already got his spin-off and kinda blew it on the way to the Greek.
Paul Rudd’s dopey surf instructor Kunu on the other hand got only a few scenes and managed to own them all with his goofy apathy and hilariously incorrect adages.
In a world where Will Ferrell and Adam Sandler can have a movie greenlit on the strength of a script written on a postage stamp I can’t fathom how the talented and far more likable Paul Rudd couldn’t make a film centred around his adventures tutoring gormless tourists in Hawaii adventures work.
Film – The Other Guys
Actors – Samuel L. Jackson & The Rock
If Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg were the ‘other guys’, then The Rock and Sam Jackson were the ‘guys’.
I surprised myself for almost liking The Other Guys, at least the non-Ferrell parts, however it stood out like dog’s balls that the amazingly cocky duo that every desk-bunny kowtowed to were actually funnier than those ‘other guys’.
Since the 80s and 90s were owned by buddy-cop flicks it has been nearly a decade since we have seen a really good one, in fact The Other Guys played this up by showing an atypical and out of their depth pair of heroes.
With The Rock having the muscles and the charisma and Sam Jax the street smarts and ultra-confidence, you can’t tell me that queuing up to check out ‘The Guys’ would have been preferable to the ‘hilarity’ of listening to Ferrell claim to one and all that screen wife Eva Mendes is a drab and plain housewife for an hour and a half?
Film – Escape from New York
Actor – Kurt Russell
Now hear me out. I know that Snake Plissken is one of the most revered characters from 80s film, but are you seriously telling me that Escape from New York was the best film with him in it that they could have come up with? (Though I can say it was certainly better than Escape from LA).
The distinctive look (eye-patch, muscle shirt), the attitude (DO NOT F with me) and amazing self confidence of Kurt Russell’s Plissken was far cooler than the movie itself, capped off with his almost whispered dialogue and effortless sense of cool.
John Carpenter and Kurt Russell teamed up many times in the 80s, the results included Big Trouble in Little China, The Thing and this film. Escape from New York was the only example of the film not living up to the character.
Film – Zack and Miri make a Porno
Actor – Justin Long
I had to imdb the film to get Justin Long’s character’s name from this film, which despite a whole mess of characters over-acting and indulging their every whim was by far the funniest thing in it.
Long plays the boyfriend of an attendee of a school reunion, a male attendee it must be said. Because ‘Brandon’ is in fact a gay porn star (when not at school reunions), a fact that he matter of factly informs a slack jawed Zack in his incredibly deep voice before listing some of his films – all with amusing titles of course.
The reason Long’s character rules over all the film’s remaining minions is that he plays it all straight (so to speak) a ‘normal’ person in a sea of idiots who just happens to have an eyebrow raising occupation.
Brandon is so droll and so forthright about his choice of vocation that I would rather spend 90 minutes watching a film about his day-to-day than the next Kevin Smith craptacular. (Though perhaps not so much if handled the gay porn part too realistically.)
Film – High Fidelity
Actor – Jack Black
I actually really like High Fidelity, mainly because I see a lot of myself in John Cusack’s music snob character. But in my younger days I was far more the Jack Black ‘Barry’ character, all full of piss and vinegar and self righteous rage about the poor musical taste of practically everyone else on the globe – according to me anyway.
Unfortunately as you age that shtick swiftly gets old, especially as now I am so out of the musical loop that I couldn’t tell you a single ‘cool’ thing about the last five years. It’s also not good for your blood pressure or the enjoyment and wellbeing of those forced to listen to me crap on and on about obscure bands and artists I hate (got any idea of why I have this website?).
But watching an actor vent his spleen at hapless consumers and his friends for 90 minutes on the big screen. Yeah I could do that, especially if his amateur band is a subplot.
Film – Harold & Kumar Trilogy
Actor – Neil Patrick Harris
I watched ‘How I met your Mother’ once, and it was years ago. I still know full well that Neil Patrick Harris has apparently reinvented his image on that show as a skirt chasing, hard drinking funny man.
Even though I like all three Harold & Kumar movies it would be nonsensical for me to claim that NPH’s turn in all three films isn’t the trilogy’s strongest recurring motif, his alternate version of himself – in a role where he is not one bit gay and is in fact an eternal partier on the hunt for lady-bits – is both eye-opening and hilarious.
I’m not sure just how excited NPH would be to expand his hedonistic role out to feature length, I just suspect that the end result would have to be funnier than 7 American Pie / Road trip retreads.
Film – Despicable Me
Actor – N/A Animated tennis balls
I kinda like Despicable Me. And I kinda don’t understand why I do.
When I try though I keep coming back to the strange yellow peanut shaped Minions, the quite literally named troops of the lead character Gru.
The Minions are basically jibber-jabbering overall wearing toddlers; always wanting to play and enjoy themselves while constantly jibber-jabbering away in a language that was all their own. I’m not sure how long this nonsensical language might remain endearing if it were the only thing in the movie – though Pauly Shore squoze out a few years didn’t he? I just know that every time they popped onscreen in Despicable Me I chuckled.
As I said then “See it for the plot, stay for the Minions”.
Film – Hudson Hawk
Actors – Richard E. Grant & Sandra Bernhard
Say what you want about Hudson Hawk – and most do – but the performances of Richard E. Grant and Sandra Bernhard as the wealthy villains hell bent on world domination provided one of the more dominating combos in cinema.
A whirlwind of manic energy and unbelievable egomania, no topic is off limit for the Mayflowers and no-one is sheltered from their bizarre ramblings and over the top passion. Their unwarranted sense of self worth and similar distaste for all others is at once perplexing and hilarious, especially in the scene where they tag team to co-opt the hapless Hudson Hawk into their fiendish plan.
Hudson Hawk has gone down as one of the biggest flops in history and remains a film that polarises viewers, I would venture to say that it can’t be due to a lack of effort from Grant and Bernhard.
Film – Once Upon a Time in Mexico
Actor – Johnny Depp
Once upon a time in Mexico was an action flick with the lot. But for once Robert Rodriguez suffocated the sense of fun under the weight of too many peripheral characters and unnecessary subplots.
But as Agent Sands Johnny Depp calmly navigated his way through the malaise and effortlessly stole the show with a performance even a little more over the top than his doddering alcoholic pirate, (though that one has made him a kajillionaire.)
A cold-blooded FBI agent with a brilliant analytical mind and the confidence to wear an FBI t-shirt while strolling the savage streets of Mexico undercover, Agent Sands gets most of the best lines (“Are you a Mexi-can, or a Mexi-Can’t?”) and his character has a far more interesting role to play as the film arrives at its somewhat confusing crescendo.
It seems now every second TV show is about a cop or FBI with amazing abilities and personality disorders, why not a film about same with Depp’s starpower to drive it? It would also give Robert Rodriguez only one character to focus on, hopefully resulting in an equally entertaining but more coherent film.
Film – Men at Work
Actor – Keith David
I have always maintained that Men at Work was unfairly lumped in the juvenile crap basket due to the presence of Emilio Estevez and Charlie Sheen as loafing airhead garbage men.
But the film is surprisingly funny and endearingly lighthearted. It is also blessed with a gloriously insane performance by Keith David as garbageman quality control officer Louis, who is an intense character even when not suffering Vietnam flashbacks or delivering stinging sermons about the sanctity of ones fries.
I say put an over the top, ready to snap Louis type in any environment and give him reason for frustration and paranoia and watch the fur fly.
Film – The Girl who…
Actor – Noomi Rapace
Another ‘now hear me out’ entry. The Millennium Trilogy made for compelling and worthwhile viewing of course, but aside from the first film and half of the second I think that the best bits were watching Lisbeth Salander exist – not necessarily what she was actually called upon to do.
This is due to a confluence of the brilliant performance by Noomi Rapace and the carefully constructed multi faceted nature of her character Lisbeth Salander.
Sure the cool punk get up from … Hornet’s Nest was memorable and … Played with Fire got the violent bits, I would just rather have seen Salander given more meaningful things to do.
Unfortunately as the writer of the Millennium Trilogy passed away some time ago this is very unlikely, so we’ll have to consider Lisbeth Salander for what she is, a complex and brilliant character in a trilogy that doesn’t take advantage of her quite enough.
And don’t get me started on the US remake…
Film – The Goonies
Actor – Jonathan Ke Quan
Yep, Short-Round himself was one of The Goonies!
I acknowledge that The Goonies is at heart a kid’s flick, but it is an extremely fun and lasting one that holds a fondness for many of us.
Data was pretty much a one note character in the film, a small kid with lots of energy who always seemed more surprised by everything than anyone else. He also was an accomplished amateur inventor, and this is where I think Data has his spin-off potential.
We all recall that Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone gave the home invading kid-killers hilarious fits with his booby traps and inventions, what if a genuinely likeable and decidedly less smarmy kid did the same?
I know the fact that the real life Data / Short Round is now +40 most likely precludes him from the casting mix, but surely there is always a market for entertaining kid’s flicks that are actually interesting? Even non-animated ones!
Film – Cars 2
Actor – Michael Caine (Voice)
The best bit of the overly complicated and needy Cars 2 were the opening sequences featuring fearless spy-car Finn McMissile, the Bond style secret agent car feared by all evil automobiles the world over.
This ten minutes or so set a pace that couldn’t possibly be maintained by farting cars, the misguided arrogance of Lightning McQueen and the semi-amusing bumblings of tow truck Mater.
And if Mater has already built a cultish following of four footers that don clothes with his mug all over them and play his video games I can’t see why the suave and supercool McMissile can’t manage at least something similar.
Film – The King of New York
Actor – Laurence Fishburne
Jimmy Jump was merely one of sinister ex-con Frank White’s henchmen… on script at least. But once Laurence Fishburne granted him a frenetic ADD personality and smoothly delivered some of what could have been the silliest lines in the film, Jimmy Jump became the hub of one of the coolest under-appreciated films of the late 80s, early 90s.
Like a two year old on a sugar jag Jimmy is verbally and physically all over the place, twitching and jiggling about with nervous pent up energy and more than a hint of aggression. You might gladly watch a 90 minute action film with him running rampant over an unsuspecting citizen, but I’m not so sure you’d feel quite as comfortable sitting next to him on a public bus.
For a brief moment Laurence Fishburne was the coolest cat in film – The Matrix simply made this fact public – but for mine The King of New York was evidence that even in a bit part your eye is inexorably drawn to Fishburne regardless of what else is occurring onscreen.
You can’t manufacture charisma, I don’t care how hard Jamie Foxx tries to convince me otherwise.
Film – Payback
Actor – Mel Gibson
Another one from the Lisbeth Salander files, Porter is the central character in a pretty decent flick. Once again though the flick doesn’t maximise every facet of the character.
As a dour man back from the very brink of death Porter has given up on everything that he previously held dear, just like The Punisher. But where the Punisher took a logo and decided to take his apathy and aggression out on crime in general, Porter simply quit. He decided that the only thing important to him was reclaiming has property and damn whoever was in his way, leading to a high body count and countless cigarettes smoked to the filter.
I remain convinced that Porter is a fascinating anti-hero who could feature in any number of serial style films. At the opening of each film he finds himself wronged once more, then sets about dispassionately carving a swathe through the underworld until he restores the balance.
The fact that I loathe Mel Gibson yet still feel I would watch any Porter flick attests to my confidence in the character. Apparently the low box office thanks to the grimness of the film means my Gibson hatred will likely never be truly tested, not while he settle for stuff like The Beaver in any case.
Film – Metro
Actor – Michael Wincott
Metro was a sorry attempt to show Eddie Murphy’s diversity in the mid 90s by plonking him in a ‘hostage negotiator with a smart mouth’ flick. Unfortunately it was always doomed to failure and it was no surprise when audiences discovered that Eddie was playing things semi-serious and stayed away in droves.
The pity is that as the truly despicable bad guy Michael Korda the awesomely gravel-voiced Michael Wincott yet again managed to dominate a film without the audience responding. And not for the first time, Wincott was the best thing about Alien: Resurrection and held his own as the memorably scuzzy Top Dollar in The Crow.
In the case of both Metro and Alien 4 Wincott was the most memorable thing in each deeply flawed film, he also held his own in several bit parts in other 90s films, his vast imdb acting resume actually suggests he may have gotten his shot as a lead actor and blown it.
Like a Rage Against the Machine song buried in a mixtape each time Wincott spoke you cease all other thought and focus entirely on him until the next scene. Unfortunately like RAtM there is the distinct likelihood that his smoky voice might become grating over the course of a two hour film (or album), but I always wondered why Hollywood never bothered to test the waters and find out.
Film – Hellraiser
Actor – Doug Bradley
Despite being on most of the posters Pinhead was nothing more than a scary looking onlooker in the early Hellraiser films, the leader of the bogeymen (alright Cenobites Clive Barker sticklers) who menaced the innocent young female from afar, flanked by similarly grotesque S&M monsters.
Pinhead might indeed have been the stuff of nightmares, but in a purely cinematic sense he was a peripheral afterthought. Until some smart little monkey in marketing realised just how cool and scary he looked and whacked him on the cover. In the late 80s that VHS cover freaked 13 year old me the fuck out for years. It took a solid decade before I had the gumption to watch the film for the first time, and when I did I was gobsmacked at just how minor a role Pinhead actually had.
It turns out that in the script Pinhead was simply ‘lead Cenobite’, with little importance placed upon the role aside from the aforementioned ultimate threat to the heroine. History has shown that Pinhead boasts one of the more indelible makeup jobs in cinema, so effective that even non-horror fans could pick him out of a horror monster lineup. While he took on more of a role in some of the sequels Pinhead was never utilised to his full potential in a film that was as scary as he looked.
A pity, because if the film managed to be as scary as Pinhead looked, it would have given a new generation nightmares.
This amused and surprised me. As I was putting together a rough list of characters that I thought deserved their shot in the spotlight I had no idea that the same actor was responsible for two of them, but then at that stage I didn’t know who TJ Miller was.
Since then I have managed to track down his stand up show, check out a bunch of his clips on Youtube and follow him on Twitter. I now know that Mr Miller is a nice guy with a demented streak and a wicked sense of humour, yet like so many of his contempories he hasn’t yet managed to snag that role that will thrust him into the spotlight while SNL boneheads are automatically thrust into lead role after shitty lead role ad infinatum and Rob Schneider continues to exist somehow.
(I also see that he was in Cloverfield and Unstoppable, two other films I have seen and enjoyed where he unfortunately didn’t leave an indelible impression. I’ll have to revisit both soon. And maybe I can convince myself that I need to sit through Yogi Bear with my 5 year old… maybe.)
Hopefully TJ will get his Daniel Tosh break and find his place into the spotlight – if that’s what he even seeks. Perhaps he has already found his warm little niche and is content on the sidelines. I just know that the guy who looks a little Napoleon Dynamit-ee and sounds more than a little Jason Lee has something to give, something perhaps a little more than playing opposite an animated bear.
By the way, She’s out of my League continues to be an under-appreciated gem. I rewatched it a couple weeks back and was amazed that it was just as funny and memorable the second time. Something I did not expect from a rom-com, sex comedy combo.
As long as there are movies there will continue to be overpaid stars and under-acknowledged extras, the ones who slave away and stand on the periphery of the film’s poster. Some get their dues, and you might say that most of the guys on this list have made it big anyway.
This list is more about missed opportunities, fictional characters that were unfairly marginalised and therefore never got their chance to shine. Don’t feel bad for these fake people – they didn’t exist in the first place – feel sorry for the missed movies and scenes that we the audience will never see.
Now I’m sad…