The Good, The Bad & The Badass: Woody Harrelson
Woody Harrelson has had a truly unique career. From his early days as the dim but lovable Woody on Cheers, to his recent work as one of Hollywood's go-to character actors, Harrelson's been a star in some form or another for more than thirty years. He's one of the most successful examples of a TV star making the leap to the big screen, with his success possibly due to the fact that he never tried to capitalize on his Cheers' notoriety by taking-on roles that were too similar to Woody. Rather, he's been adventurous – almost to a fault – in his choice of roles.
While many of you reading this are probably too young to remember the storm of controversy that sprung up during the release of NATURAL BORN KILLERS – Woody's now-infamous collaboration with Oliver Stone (with a heavily re-written script by Quentin Tarantino) – suffice to say it almost ended his career. People, including writer John Grisham, tore Harrelson and Stone to pieces for their involvement with such an ultra-violent film, with the satire of it being the element that seemed to rankle people the most. Rather than distance himself from the film, Harrelson continued to take on daring parts and while his career arguably took a hit for several years (it's rumored to have lost him th lead in A TIME TO KILL – a part that made his pal Matthew McConaughey a star), his unquestionable talent made a comeback inevitable, and he's probably more popular now than he's ever been. Truly, he's an actor that's worthy of being called a bad-ass, and his filmography in full-of amazing performances, both on the big-screen (OUT OF THE FURNACE, THE MESSENGER, RAMPART) and the small (GAME CHANGE, True Detective).
Whatever happened to Milos Forman? One of the great directors of his era, Forman made a whole bunch of classics, including ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST, AMADEUS, MAN ON THE MOON and more. THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT ranks with his best work, and Harrelson has arguably never been better than he was as Hustler Magazine founder Larry Flynt, with the film zeroing-in on his court battles with Jerry Falwell, making him an unlikely crusader for free speech. Harrelson does a brilliant job conveying both Flynt's intelligence and his seamier, more unsavory side and the film is just as effective in the courtroom as it is in its depiction of his romance with his wife Althea (played by an excellent Courtney Love).
NOW YOU SEE ME is a perfectly serviceable heist flick. However, I'm not quite sure why Hollywood has decided to take a movie that I'm sure audiences were only semi-lukewarm on originally and turn it into a franchise. Did it really make that much money? While I may be wrong and NOW YOU SEE ME 2 might wind-up being the sleeper hit of the year, I'm just not convinced that the film really deserves a follow-up, as it was really only an okay movie rather than something with major franchise potential. Here's hoping Woody gets a bit more to do in the sequel as he felt somewhat wasted in the original.
The Farrelly Brothers have never been as funny as they were with KINGPIN. A box-office flop in its day, the movie had the misfortune to be sandwiched between their hits DUMB & DUMBER and THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY, so it tends to be overlooked in their filmography. If you haven't seen it, KINGPIN deserves a watch as it's one of the funniest films of the nineties. Woody's hilarious as one-handed bowling hustler Roy Munson, with the now-insane Randy Quaid as his naive Amish protege, and nineties pin-up queen Vanessa Angel as the love interest. There are so many classic bits in this one, from Harrelson happily guzzling what he thinks is a bucket of milk from a cow only to be told, “we don't have a cow, we have a bull,” to pretty much every scene featuring Bill Murray as Woody's comb-over wearing rival. God I love this movie.
While Harrelson's always managed to find good roles, around the mid-oughts his career cooled-off a little bit, with him mostly regulated to small roles in big movies (NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN) or big roles in small movies (THE WALKER, DEFENDOR). While ZOMBIELAND might have initially seemed like a bit of a paycheck role, his performance as zombie-hunter Tallahassee in Ruben Fleischer's entertaining zom-com wound up being a movie that put him back on the map in a big way. Not only did Woody manage to get his KINGPIN pal Bill Murray to show up for a great cameo, but he also gave the movie an edge it might not have had otherwise. His heroic big battle with the zombies during the climax likely won him a ton of new fans among younger viewers, and it was certainly a moment that proved Harrelson still had star quality in spades.
As always, Woody Harrelson's keeping busy, with the latest HUNGER GAMES movie, MOCKINGJAY PART 2 out this week. He also has the intriguing TRIPLE 9 in the can, along with an LBJ biopic, NOW YOU SEE ME 2, WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES and more on the horizon.
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