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10 Worst Performances by Directors Acting in Their Own Films

It may be the lure of ego or pure miscalculation, but some very good directors have committed vast errors in judgment by casting themselves in their own movies. Some, because they’re just not good enough actors for the part assigned. Others are accomplished actors who still see themselves as romantic leads long after their advanced age makes self-casting foolish and/or embarrassing. Then there are those actor-director hyphenates who lose focus and direct themselves into performances that, on occasion, inspire boos, hisses and ‘oh nos!’ Why do they step into this miscasting trap? Maybe it’s the narcotic of power and control, or the desire to share the joy, like a drug dealer using his own product. Maybe it’s for the fun of it, or the intoxication of holding a piece of the screen. In any event, whatever the compulsion, here are our 10 favorite, bristling examples of self-casting calamities.

1. M. Night Shyamalan – Vick Ran in Lady In the Water and every other film
There are few film careers as bewildering as that of M. Night Shyamalan. After the elegance of The Sixth Sense, M. Night’s career has been a blueprint for gradually diminishing promise. And that goes double for his acting. In The Sixth Sense, he’s passable, playing a bit of an inside-joke role as a doctor (his wife is a psychologist). In Unbreakable, he provides an anonymous point of tension in another small role. He neither impresses nor offends. But then we have Shyamalan sightings in Signs, The Village, Lady in the Water… films filled with outstanding actors and solid performances, making Shyamalan’s ‘performances’ inert by comparison; his misguided, stubborn attempts annoying. In Lady in the Water, he even cast himself as a future leader of immeasurable inspiration, a writer who hadn’t yet realized his potential. Now why does that sound familiar? -NS

2. Clint Eastwood – Terry McCaleb in Blood Work
A highly reputable FBI agent is forced into retirement by a heart attack and a transplant that saves his life. When he’s inundated with pleas to take on cases from legions of victims and law enforcement agencies, by virtue of his condition he rejects every one. Until, that is, a gorgeous woman appears on his boat dock with the same sort of appeal for his investigative services. This one he doesn’t turn down. He can’t — once he learns that it’s her dead sister’s heart beating in his chest. This extraordinary plot device from great mystery writer Michael Connelly was virtually smothered by Clint Eastwood, at age 72, thinking he still ‘had it’ in the romance-with-a-younger-woman department. The chemistry, with 42-year old Wanda de Jesus, was a dud. When this $50 million production returned a worldwide take of only $31.7 million, reality at last registered on the commercial-minded hyphenate. Eastwood returned two years later as Hillary Swank’s fatherly boxing trainer in Million Dollar Baby with an adjusted self-perception and four Oscars. But the tragedy of what a movie from this book could have been remains, and a Connelly fan can only hope for a do-over. -JB

3. Kevin Spacey – Bobby Darin in Beyond the Sea
In the splurge of overachieving hubris that was the misfired Bobby Darin biopic Beyond the Sea, Kevin Spacey actually managed to scrub our minds clear of the soft-boiled dreck that was his directorial debut, Albino Alligator. At least he didn’t act in that one. Unfortunately, with Beyond the Sea, Kevin decided that not only did he need to splash his sub-Dennis Potter routine all over the screen (postwar pop tunes as dark metaphor for the fractured soul), he had to take front and center as the hard-driving, finger-snapping, hellaciously overtalented icon that Darin was, and sing Darin’s songs for him. Because Spacey thought he was a good singer, not a passable tune carrier who can murmur along behind the big Broadway belters, but somebody who was the equal of Darin. Soulless, preening, embarrassing. -CB

4. Uwe Boll – Himself in Postal
Oddly enough, the world’s worst director is not actually the world’s worst actor. Still, as his performance in the smug, tasteless satire Postal proves, Uwe Boll is quite possibly the planet’s least funny filmmaker. Playing the owner/operator of the Little Germany amusement park, he jokes about financing his movies with plundered Nazi treasure, drools over some unsuspecting females, and then compounds his crude cameo by paying off an employee in… gold teeth. Apparently, he thinks the Holocaust is hilarious. It figures. -BG

5. Helen Hunt April Epner in Then She Found Me
Now that her days as a perky thirtysomething are behind her, Mad About You star Helen Hunt has turned to directing. In front of the camera, Hunt has always come off as a little hard-bitten, perhaps, but still with some of that girl-next-door charm and attainability to soften her up. Directing herself in the wildly misguided Then She Found Me, the 44-year-old Hunt still feels attainable… but God, who would want her? Without an independent voice behind the camera to help guide and warm up her performance, Hunt is transformed into a cross harpy who spends the whole film shrieking to have a baby by any means necessary. (Ultimately she forces her estranged mother to buy her one, how’s that for a message!?) The movie’s script (which Hunt wrote, too) is bad enough, but it’s Hunt’s soulless and self-absorbed performance that ultimately sinks the movie altogether. -CN

6. Woody Allen C.W. Briggs in The Curse of the Jade Scorpion
As a younger man, when Allen hooked up with Diane Keaton, Janet Margolin, or Louise Lasser, it was a triumph for nerds worldwide. And Allen, with his ferocious wit and impish charm, could get away with it. But a director has to know when his time is up. Through the ’80s and ’90s, Allen continued to rope the ladies in, but it got progressively creepier, culminating with Helen Hunt (age 38) and Charlize Theron (age 26) swooning over the 65-year-old in this 2001 clinker. Cary Grant couldn’t pull this off, and watching Allen do so is squirm-inducing. These days he’s keeping his mitts off Scarlett Johansson, and thank God for that, otherwise our eyes might never stop bleeding. –PC

7. Edward Burns Mickey Fitzpatrick in She’s the One
Burns’ writing-directing-starring debut The Brothers McMullen was so charming, you couldn’t help but forgive the movie’s rougher edges. But in Burns’ bigger-budget follow-up She’s the One, Burns committed a classic blunder, casting his real-life girlfriend Maxine Bahns as ‘the One,’ over some obscure co-stars named Cameron Diaz, J
ennifer Aniston, and Amanda Peet. But Bahn’s woodenness was mere distraction to this movie’s real problem — Burns just hadn’t yet developed the on-screen acting chops to pull off a complicated role (and arguably still hasn’t). The result? A decent dramedy that stalled whenever its leads appeared on-screen. Oops. -EM

8. Quentin Tarantino – Warren, in Death Proof from Grindhouse
No one with an ounce of love for movies can fault this innovator for his dedication to paying homage to great B-movie classics and their creators. And, if he puts himself into a cameo part now and then, it’s actually fun to see the man behind an already rich film legacy. But, when he imagines he can take on a real part, the result is none too kind to our perception of him. Sound the Ego Alert for the drag his appearance makes on the Death Proof part of Grindhouse. As Warren, he all but pulls the brake on Kurt Russell’s psychopathic flare as an amped-up killer and on stuntwoman Zoe Bell’s completely infectious, knockout champion of victim power. Fortunately, the directorial honcho’s role isn’t big enough to waste the octane fueling his cast’s turbo-charged portrayals behind the throttles. -JB

9. Jean-Luc Godard – L’idiot et le prince in Keep Up Your Right
Jean-Luc Godard purportedly based his metaphysical romp Keep Up Your Right as a homage to Jerry Lewis. And who better to play a Jerry Lewis character in a Godard film than Godard himself acting the role of an impassioned crackpot filmmaker named Monsieur Godard but referred to throughout the film as The Idiot. Sporting an old-time three piece suit and a felt hat, he channels the airplane scene from The Family Jewels and the comic suicide attempts in Cracking Up. You know Godard is ready for some screwball wackiness when he remarks in a voice-over, ‘Man is born for Death.’ And do not miss Godard’s death scene, where he falls down an airplane ramp and sprawls flat on the tarmac, rigor mortis setting in, film cans surrounding him like Aztec markers. For viewers, rigor mortis already set in about 85 minutes earlier. -PB

10. Eddie Murphy Quick in Harlem Nights
We can forgive the former SNL superstar for his slipshod career and a little commercial carte blanche. But there is no excuse for Harlem Nights, the comedian’s 1989 crash-and-burn directorial debut and swan song. The Prohibition era setting struggles mightily against the actor’s own contemporary swagger. As a result, his mindless mugging is never convincing. Neither is his work behind the lens. The biggest crime committed here? The utter wasting of stand up legends Richard Pryor and Redd Foxx, Murphy’s main inspirations and influences. -BG

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