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BOOK REVIEW: What's A Nice Actor Like You Doing In A Movie Like This?

03.17.2011by: Dave Murray

SYNOPSIS: Presented in an encyclopedia/bathroom reader style, Dan Whitehead's What's a Nice Actor Like You Doing In A Movie Like This? is a detailed, witty and hilarious listing of "the most embarrassing movies in history, and the celebrities who stared in them".From A to Z, some of the cheesiest movies you've ever had the good luck not to see are described in all of their glory, listed under the name of the celebrity who either went on to fame after appearing in them, or whose fame was in the past and now they're slumming it in the land of schlock.

If you've ever wanted to know what Bogart looked like as a zombie mad scientist, if you're wondering how the fangs of a poisonous snake ended up in Oliver Reed's testicles, and if you've ever wanted to know about the horrible movies great actors take on just for a paycheck - this is the book for you!

REVIEW: Inspired by seeing Jennifer Aniston in the awful guilty pleasure movie Leprechaun, entertainment writer Dan Whitehead set out on a herculean quest to chronicle some of the strangest movies ever made that feature an appearance, a major performance or a cameo from someone who is today considered a celebrity. Every entry is extensively researched, giving us a lowdown of the movie's plot and where the famous folk fit into it, and just the amount of bad and weird movies on hand here is staggering, especially since Whitehead did the research himself by actually watching all of them. It added to the enjoyment of the book, because I was feeling for him! Following his own set of criteria (Actors had to have sufficient credibility and be recognizable to most people, and the movies themselves had to be cheesy or strange or terrible enough so that the celebrity would stand out), the author gives us 197 main entries of cheesy oddball fun, and while some of them will go over any casual movie watcher's head, most of them are wildly entertaining and insightful.

I won't get into too much detail about the meat of the book, the actual entries, because that would wreck any joy of discovery for anyone who would love this book. And it really is a treasure trove of hidden or forgotten gems, only the treasure is mostly unpleasant and no one in their right minds would spend too long looking at the gems for fear of going mad! But genre fans, more than any other audience, like to take their punishment with bloody glee, and will sit through the most god-awful movies because sometimes the terrible ones can be so bad they transcend themselves and become awesome. Other times a movie has to be watched because a favorite actor was in it, whether it's one of their earlier efforts (such as Kevin Bacon or Johnny Depp in both Friday The 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street respectively), a low budget turd after their glory days have waned (such as Oliver Reed in the phenomenally awful Gor), or an out of the blue noggin bonker while in the middle of their stardom (such as Shakespearean master and starship captain Patrick Stewart in the abysmal Lifeforce).

Personally, I had a lot of fun with this book. There were entries about actors I love in movies that I hated (such as F. Murray Abraham in the horrid Blood Monkey, a movie I had the unfortunate displeasure of reviewing right here on the site), and others that reminded me about awesome actors in movies that I love, but haven't seen in a long time (like Liam Neeson in the under-appreciated fantasy anti-epic Krull). While I didn't agree with some of Whitehead's opinions (I'm still defending my love of Willow to this day), that's just the differences in reviewer opinions, and overall I loved the book, even the more obscure entries and especially all of the anecdotes and mountains of cross referencing. Speaking of which, that's the most fun for me in any book such as this. The "six degrees"-like connections between stars and movies fascinates me, and Whitehead cross references this tome like a boss. Entries mention any other notable actors who were in the movie, and sometimes an entry under an actor's name will simply point the reader to another actor's entry (such as Renee Zellweger's name pointing to Matthew McConaughey's turn in Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation). It also includes any bit players who emerged as stars years after appearing in a movie, and any and all popular stories associated with a production. In essence, Whitehead gives us all of the "juicy bits" that make this foray into cinema and video hell worthwhile, making the book less about the actors and more about obsessively detailing the story of each terrible or strange movie.

Thoroughly enjoyable and laugh out loud funny, Whitehead's exhaustive detail and dry British wit make this book so much better than it could have been. The only issues that I had with it were the inclusion of some of the more obscure entries, or some of the ones by very recent celebrities (such as Taylor Lautner), but those are small gripes based on personal taste and opinion. What this book is is one hell of an undertaking, and all together it's a great read. While I wouldn't suggest following his lead and seeking out all of the movies in the book (which could possibly lead to alcoholism, suicide or worse), it will no doubt inspire enough curiosity to make you check out something you've never seen before, or revisit an old favorite bad movie. If you're a fan of "before the were stars" or "where are they now" tales and anecdotes, pick up this book. As long as you don't partake too much all at once, I promise you'll be fine.

RATING: 8/10




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