The Good, The Bad & The Badass: Paul Rudd
I'm probably not the first person to say this, but Paul Rudd is like a modern day Dorian Grey. While everyone else gets older, Rudd – who's forty-five – hasn't seemed to age since CLUELESS. He must have a decaying portrait hanging in a closet somewhere. I actually met Rudd a few years ago at the Sundance Film Festival, and he looked just as youthful in person as he does on the big screen. Oh yeah, and he was just as nice as you'd think. He was taking time to chat with me about the movies I'd seen and to tell me that the movie he was promoting – THEY CAME TOGETHER – was “a lot like the movie AMOUR”. Funny guy.
Rudd's had an interesting career. Blessed with leading-man good looks, he never seemed really comfortable with the bland romantic lead roles he played early on. It should also be noted that an early attempt to turn him into an action hero – in the Hong Kong movie GEN-Y COPS – went so disastrously awry he's been poking fun at in on talk shows for years.
Rudd fared much better when he hooked up with the crew from The State to do WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER, and follow-ups like THE BAXTER, and THE TEN. Around this time he also landed a well-received arc on Friends and started popping up in Judd Apatow films – in which he really found his groove. ANCHORMAN and THE 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN led to KNOCKED UP and from there his leading man career in comedies really picked up, with him fronting hits like ROLE MODELS (directed by WET HOT's David Wain), I LOVE YOU, MAN and more. While there's been the occasional dud like WANDERLUST (also directed by Wain) & HOW DO YOU KNOW, movies like THIS IS FORTY have kept him consistently popular and Marvel's ANT-MAN looks like it has the potential to propel him to new heights of stardom, mixing his comedic chops with another shot at action-adventure. Based on the buzz it looks like Rudd's pulled this one off big-time.
For me, Rudd's at his best when he's working with his pals Michael Showalter and David Wain, and the best example of this remains WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER. While it's become a cult hit over the years, back in 2001 it was barely a blip in the collective pop-culture subconscious. I caught it on cable and couldn't believe how funny it was. While it's truly an ensemble piece, Rudd is one of the highlights, playing the stereotypical teen “jerk” character, a riff on the kind of guys William Zabka and Ted McGinley made careers playing in the eighties. Rudd's so well suited to the part, with his eternally youthful good looks and knowing attitude adding up to one of the great contemporary comedic performances.
With WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER having finally generated a cult following and Rudd's career on the upswing, its strange that THEY CAME TOGETHER made such a tiny dent at the box office. I think it's a case of people not getting what Wain, Showalter and company were going for, which is basically a Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker style spoof of romantic comedies, only laced with a healthy dose of absurdity. While not all the jokes work, there are some really great bits, including this gem:
Being such a huge fan of Rudd, its hard for me to call any of his hits overrated. Usually when his stuff is successful, it's well-earned. However, he's had his share of flops with HOW DO YOU KNOW being the absolute worst. Now before you talkbackers start going crazy, I know its not overrated as pretty much everyone hated it. But damn this movie was lame, and it's incredible if you consider how much talent went into it. James L. Brooks used to be an amazing director and its no wonder everyone pinned such high hopes on it.
While I briefly considered throwing in the “I know you're gay because...” riff from THE 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN, the fact is Rudd's probably never been funnier than he was in this memorable bit from WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER. Just look at co-star Janeane Garofalo and see how hard it is for her to keep a straight face.
With ANT-MAN on the way, Rudd's obviously going to become something of a fixture in Marvel's upcoming slate, but he's also re-teaming with his old friends for a project I'm absolutely dying to see: Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp.
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