Front Row Film School: When bad movies happen to good actors

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As evidenced by "Twilight," good actor + white greasepaint + stilted dialogue + no characterization = tragic waste of time.

Bill Thomas, A&E Editor

When I did my “Twilight” movie marathon last week, I instantly found myself attached to the character of Jasper Hale. Not because he was such a good character, but because he was such an awful character. He quickly became my ironic favorite, due to his “ridiculously stiff, stick-up-the-ass posture and wide-eyed, pursed-lip, Zoolander-esque facial expressions.” There was also the fact that he had absolute zero characterization, a total blank slate.

Nevertheless, something else about him gnawed at me. Why did he seem so damn familiar?

It wasn’t until I watched (ruefully, at this point) the third movie in the series, “Eclipse,” that it clicked. See, this was the first movie where he showed any sort of character development. In other words, it was the first time Jackson Rathbone, the actor saddled with the wafer-thin role, actually got to do a little acting.

And act he did! He was surprisingly fantastic, a little ragged but overall admirably nuanced, subtle and sincere despite how hacky the material he had to work with was.

That’s when I remembered what I know the guy from. The same actor had starred a few years previously in “Dread,” an imperfect but nevertheless impressive adaptation of the short story of the same name by “Hellraiser” creator Clive Barker (yes, an author who actually knows how to write supernatural fiction with some degree of skill, quite unlike “Twilight” writer Stephanie Meyer).

I looked Rathbone up and was disappointed to find out he had also been in “S. Darko,” the widely panned “Donnie Darko” sequel that I’d fortunately avoided seeing, and “The Last Airbender,” the even more widely panned live-action film version of the popular cartoon series that I’d unfortunately not been able to avoid seeing. I hadn’t even realized the same actor had been in the latter picture.

As you’d imagine, considering how much I’d enjoyed “Dread” and specifically Rathbone’s performance in it, I was depressed with my findings. How can such a good actor have such a terrible filmography under his belt? Is it purposeful? Does he have a bad agent? Does he specifically pursue only the most immature mainstream drivel in an attempt to appeal to the masses and forge for himself a financially sound but artistically barren career?

It got me thinking: It’s such a tragedy seeing good actors in bad movies. It’s even worse than seeing a bad actor in a good movie. Because a good movie is a good movie regardless of one or two bad seeds peppered among the cast list. But a bad movie isn’t good for anyone, neither the creative participants nor the unhappy audience members. Simply put, a good actor in a bad movie is a complete waste. It’s a waste of talent as much as it is a waste of time.

All good things should be remembered, actors included. Bad movies are rarely remembered, unless they’re exceptionally, entertainingly so. I’ll remember “Dread” and Rathbone’s role in it for years upon years to come. It affected me that deeply. But “Twilight?” The character of Jasper Hale? I doubt I’ll remember it a month from now. And all its fans now will undoubtedly graduate to the next teen pop sensation, “The Hunger Games” perhaps or whatever follows that, leaving “Twilight” and its artistic effluvia to fade away.

What a shame.