Some things cannot be contained. Frequently, this is hilarious.
I’m talking about the ego of the shameless actor/director. You know who I mean. The guy (and yes, it’s usually a guy) who finds the person in charge of how long his close-up lasts is finally, well, himself.
And, now that we mention it, shouldn’t that close up last just a leetle bit longer? Yes. Of course.
Now, actor/directors are not by any means an unpleasant bunch. From Charlie Chaplin to Clint Eastwood to Christopher Guest, men and women have frequently moved behind the camera without imploding in a frenzy of self-love. Some people—even actors—have humility. If they perform in their own pictures, they’re not necessarily the star. Or even if they do take a lead role, they don’t ooze all over the damn place like a carpet of slugs.
But we are not here to scold these Tyrannosaurs of Hollywood. We are here to boggle at them, mouths agape, drooling incredulously. Indeed, on your behalf, we have compiled the five most hysterically horrific examples of actor/directors who ran full speed off the cliffs of narcissism as willingly and pointlessly as Thelma & Louise.
This is a good analogy for our first entry as it turns out.
5) William Shatner in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
In case you haven’t seen the fifth entry in the Star Trek franchise, let me offer you a brief spoiler. It’s terrible.
After performing as Captain James T. Kirk for years and directing a few T.J. Hooker episodes, William Shatner was finally allowed to helm a Trek film—because the studio was contractually forced to let him do so. The fact that the third and the (especially successful) fourth Trek films were directed by Leonard Nimoy (Spock) must have driven the Shat into a frenzy of jealous ravings. Finally given his chance behind the camera, he declined to hold back in the slightest.
What is The Final Frontier about? Well, nothing big. Just the crew of the Enterprise facing off against god and winning.
Surely that’s a reasonable match? Kirk vs. God? Shatner thought so. He wrote the damn story. Although in his version, betrayed by Spock and Bones, Kirk squares off against god alone to save the day.
Unluckily for us, the studio had his draft rewritten to be slightly less insane.
Shatner has been known as a notorious screen hog since the early days of Star Trek. Still, you’d think he’d have developed some self-awareness by the late 1980s.
Good news! He didn’t! He still hasn’t! Check out this scene from early in the film for a taste of what’s in store for you.
Yep. You just watched that. An elderly man free climbing El Capitan—one of the world’s most notorious faces—with no gear except for a bag of chalk and a nylon track suit. He doesn’t even have a water bottle. Or the slightest bit of weight on his feet or arms. Because he’s that good.
There isn’t anything William Shatner can’t do in a film he’s starring in and directing and which he wrote. Except, maybe, make it watchable. This one pretty much put the last nail in the coffin for the original Trek crew. After being directed by Shatner, they were probably ready to hang up their uniforms anyway, though.
Incidentally, if you’re interested in why Kirk is climbing the mountain I can answer you in song. I will also share with you this bonus link, in which Kirk outwits god (okay fine, it’s some alien, not god, but still).
And this self-aggrandizement is just child’s play compared to what’s to come. It’s the newer kids on the block who make the rookie mistakes, like…
4) Prince in Under the Cherry Moon
The Purple One has always been an intense, in-your-face, seximified icon of funk. He also is apparently some sort of fin-de-sicle lampshade if Under the Cherry Moon is to believed.
I must admit that I have not actually seen this entire film. Despite the fact that it introduced the world to Kristen Scott Thomas, it is by all accounts unbearable. It doesn’t even have Purple Rain‘s saving grace—an excellent soundtrack.
What is it that makes Under the Cherry Moon such a train wreck? All you need to do is watch the opening scene from Prince’s directorial debut and you’ll see.
What we have here is a cleverly crafted simulacrum of a film. Someone has taken some period costumes and period settings and then put Prince in the middle of it, swilling cocktails and talking like he just got off the bus in Minneapolis.
That someone, of course, is Prince. And, in this love poem to himself, his choices just get more and more untethered.
His super subtle flirtations in which he eats half his hand and then pantomimes the kama sutra are irresistible, sure. It doesn’t matter that he’s dressed like an out of work magician’s assistant or that the noir style lighting more aptly mimics the mood of Manimal watched on a 13″ black & white tv. He piles on a couple of clichés—the slow removal of gloves, the eye-light (on himself, of course), the font for the titles—but nobody’s fooled for an instant.
Because Prince in a period piece is still so fucking Prince that he might as well be an ostrich knitting a cardigan. Now, a real director might have been able to tame this wild stallion of lust, but… Prince? He just doubles down, rolling his eyes dramatically and, I swear I’m not kidding, having a woman dance random ballet moves behind him in soft focus because why?
I dunno. You tell me.
And this film hasn’t even really started yet. So if you turned that clip off before his wacky friend passed him the note that says, “Now give her the eyes!” you’re missing out.
Have a heart, will ya? Let Prince give you the eyes.
3) Steven Segal in On Deadly Ground
Look. I’m really sorry about this. If you thought that William Shatner and Prince we’re out of their gourds, you have another thing coming.
Steven Segal is holy bejebus batshit crazy. Like cockroaches in your underpants crazy.
Perhaps you have seen some Segal films, in which he saves his family or whatever by punching people brutally in the head repeatedly? In these films, Segal has a certain animal charm—you know, like an angry bear locked in your camper van can be charming.
But then someone let him direct. Someone dangerously unhinged.
This film, On Deadly Ground, is a perfect maelstrom of egomaniacal insanity. Segal plays a specialist who stumbles upon the evil workings of the oil industry. Only he can save the precious Eskimos (Joan Chen? An Eskimo?) from the clutches of the ruthless CEO played by Michael Caine. It’s like Die Hard in blustery Alaska—it’s killing me that they didn’t name it Blow Hard.
Seriously. That is the perfect name for this movie.
Through the course of picture, Steven Segal brutally kills everyone who stands in his way, destroying a massive refinery complex in the process. To reward him for his acts of unsanctioned terrorism, he’s invited to the Alaska State Capitol to give a speech.
Just try to wrap your head around that. Or wait. Don’t bother. Here’s the speech:
Not too bad, right? I guess I think it’s a little brief and lighthearted. Maybe, dunno, he should have tried to make a difference while he had the ear of those high level Alaskan politicians? Nah. That would have required hogging the spotlight and doing so would be simply uncouth.
Did I mention that this film has Segal go on a vision quest? Yeah. He does that. He also bungee jumps off a dam using Michael Caine’s intestines as a cord. And if you don’t believe me you’ll just have to watch On Deadly Ground to see for yourself.
2) Kevin Costner in The Postman
As we get towards the top of our list, I understand that you’re feeling dubious. What could possibly be worse that a 4-minute lecture from an insane ecological rights activist wearing a fringed leather coat?
Maybe Kevin Costner?
Yes. Kevin Costner.
Kevin Costner is like the deep space of acting talent. There might be a few molecules of something floating around out there, but chances are: no. And that brings us to his magnum opus, The Postman.
How bad is it? Let’s put it this way. He starts off by playing some Shakespeare and it goes downhill from there. In The Postman, Costner plays a drifter in the post-apocalyptic U.S. He assumes the identity of a postman and somehow manages to save the world. It only takes him about three hours.
While there are many many many many things about The Postman that will make you want to flush your eyeballs down the toilet, I have chosen for your viewing pleasure the climactic showdown between the Postman and General Bethlehem (Will Patton).
That’s some moving shit, right? The way The Postman is willing to sacrifice himself for the people who have chosen to follow him? If only, I dunno, he could deliver a line without sounding like he’s working behind the counter at the DMV. And if only any of those lines—any of them really—hadn’t been heard a billion times before out of the mouths of a billion other (better) actors.
My favorite part is probably when he rips his sleeve off and rides across the line of Holnists to display the brand on his shoulder. It just seems a little familiar, though? Nah. That would be totally unbelievably ridiculous for a director to use the same shot of the same lead actor sacrificing himself on horseback, riding along a line of enemy soldiers in two films in a row. Particularly if the actor and the director were the same person.
After that, even with the triumphantly majestic music (cough) and the delicate performances, I think it gets a little silly. Although the part where he says “I believe in the United States” and then punches Patton repeatedly in the face is pretty good.
I’m also pretty keen on the bit where he says, “There’s going to be peace!” and the crowd literally replies, “Yeah. Alright. Yep.” But really, it’s tough to single out moments from a masterpiece like this.
I just wish there was more focus on Kevin Costner. Maybe they should build a statue of him at the end of the movie? Nah. That would be stupid. He’s too beautiful in motion to capture in bronze.
1) Mel Gibson in Braveheart
I have saved the best for last. There is nothing quite so astoundingly preposterous as Mel Gibson in Braveheart.
There are many things that can be said about this film. About how a sane director would have realized that only someone with their head wedged inside a capybara could possible believe Gibson passes for a teenager, perhaps. Or that, speaking generally, evisceration and good diction aren’t a natural pairing. Or that maybe someone who could pull of a Scottish accent should play a Scottish national hero. But in the end, I think it’s best to just let the film speak for itself.
For the record, after Mel screams “Freedom!” my expression is exactly the same as the Inquisitor’s. And if you ever want to avoid being drafted, learn to mimic Mel’s smile at the end of this scene.
And this truly is my nightmare. I wake up in a cold sweat at least once a week thinking, “Oh shit. I forgot that my wooden horse and I were on the third floor! We’ll have to juuuuuuuuuuump.”
By the way, this film was awarded Best Picture and Best Director. If that doesn’t make 1995 the absolute worst year for film I do not know what. Imagine being Chris Noonan, director of Babe—by all accounts an excellent film, well judged and finely executed—and being beaten by Mel Gibson in a kilt.
There is nothing worse than being beaten by Mel Gibson in a kilt.
So let’s all take a moment to appreciate humility and how boring it would be if only the humble made films. Or, uh, wrote blogs.