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The Top 10 Most Embarrassing Paycheck Performances

A recent viewing of the trailer for Death Race triggered this question: What the hell is someone like Joan Allen doing in this dreck?’ The answer, of course is making money. You can almost see Allen at the producer’s office, her hat pulled down low, her sunglasses hiding her eyes: ‘Just send the check to my agent.’ Sadly, Oscar-caliber actors have often tarnished their sterling reputations by going after a quick buck. If, for example, you enjoyed the mid-’70s spate of epic disaster flicks, you remember legends like Fred Astaire, William Holden, Paul Newman, and even Gloria Swanson showing up with their wallets wide open. It’s one thing when good actors make bad choices (Nicolas Cage? Cuba Gooding, Jr.?), but it’s quite another when greed is the sole motivating force. Just Google ‘Marlon Brando and Superman‘ to read about one of the most appalling money grabs of all time. And so, without the slightest thought of getting paid big bucks to write it, here’s the Filmcritic.com gang’s list of the most egregious paycheck performances in movie history. Let the slumming begin.

Judi Dench, The Chronicles of Riddick
Dame Judi? More like shame, Judi! Our reviewer Chris Barsanti described her as ‘an ambassador from a ghost-like race called the Elementals.’ Oh, buh-ruther. At least the James Bond series has a bit of international style and panache. Doesn’t she make enough cash showing up and looking stern in those movies?

Michael Caine, Jaws: The Revenge
Fresh off a career-salvaging performance in Hannah and Her Sisters, Sir Michael accepted the role of ‘Hoagey Newcombe’ (no kidding) and went on this execrable Bahamas vacation, now best known for giving us the immortal tagline: ‘This time… it’s personal.’ He might as well have made Blame It on Rio 2: Revenge of the Angry Bikini.

Jon Voight, SuperBabies: Baby Geniuses 2
Our reviewer Pete Croatto said it best: ‘I felt really sorry for Jon Voight. He was one of the 1960s’ and 1970s’ signature actors, and in 2004 he’s getting repeatedly kicked in the face by a seven-year-old. Does he need money? If you or I wrote a movie, could we get Voight to participate for $100 and unlimited runs to the craft services table?’ Also note that his co-star was Scott Baio. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

Ava Gardner, Earthquake
Of the dozens of A-listers who appeared in the biggest disaster flicks of the mid-’70s, our quintessential money grubber is legendary screen siren Gardner, who showed up blowzy and bitchy as Remy, the former lover of Charlton Heston and daughter of Lorne Greene (who trivia buffs love to point out was only seven years older than her). This performance deserved to end up in a sewer, which, as it turned out in the climax, is exactly where it went.

Olivia de Haviland, The Swarm
Sigh. Another example of Hollywood royalty looking for a quick way to keep up with the mortgage payments. De Haviland isn’t the only one who deserves a painful sting in the ass from a killer bee for signing on the dotted line here. She co-starred with Henry Fonda, and hey, what do you know? Michael Caine was in the cast as well. Shoulda guessed.

Marlon Brando, The Formula
No actor consistently showed more contempt for his craft and his industry than the famously troubled Brando, whose career spun hopelessly out of control not long after he ripped his T-shirt in A Streetcar Named Desire. In this flick, one of his many paycheck appearances, he and his girth sit in a catatonic state while his multi-million-dollar check clears and George C. Scott chews up the scenery all around him. Bored as hell while Scott looms over him spewing in rage, Brando responds to his soliloquy by calmly holding up a candy bowl and asking, ‘Milk Dud?’

Laurence Olivier, Clash of the Titans
Here’s yet another titled British superstar slumming for coin. Apparently the Polaroid commercials weren’t covering his tweed budget. Actually, Sir Laurence looked the part of Zeus but really should have stayed home rather than appear in a film that’s best remembered today for the way Harry Hamlin curled his flowing mane and filled out his toga.

Alan Cumming, Spice World
We can hope that Cumming was merely ”’havin’ a laugh’ when he lent his credibility to this transparent attempt to squeeze a few more millions out of the Spice Girls’ very brief moment in the sun. Any longer out there and they really would have started to smell. Come to think of it, Cumming also appeared in Josie and the Pussycats, Son of the Mask, and Spy Kids 2. Is he perhaps Hollywood’s most pathological slummer?

Robert De Niro, The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle
Who knows? Maybe Bobby was trying to open another restaurant in Tribeca and needed money for an eight-burner stove. How else to explain his willingness to play ‘Fearless Leader’ in a film that was moose and squirrel roadkill within a week of release? Happily, he followed it up with Meet the Parents, and all was forgiven.

Dean Martin, The Ambushers
Biographers tell us that Dino was among the laziest of performers, refusing to rehearse or memorize lines, choosing instead simply to show up, wing it, and get by on charm, which, to his credit, he usually did. In this, his third film as Detective Matt Helm, he looks like a kid who is being forced by his parents to rake leaves. He’s unable to look any actor in the eye and always seems to be addressing someone off camera, probably the agent he is going to fire after the shoot is completed and the check is in his pocket. Not even the luscious, buxom babes get a rise out of him.

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