Thursday, June 28, 2001
In a ‘Friends’ episode not so long ago, Bruce Willis dances around in his underwear; this may or may not be an image to set your pulse racing, but it showed one thing very clearly – you can be a film actor or a TV actor, but you can’t be both.
Bruce looked constrained and uncomfortable throughout his appearance as Ross’s girlfriend’s Dad, and during this comedy pay-off he just looked ridiculous. And not in a funny way
Bruce decided to take the role of after working with Matthew Perry on the pretty good movie ‘The Whole Nine Yards’, and here the situation was reversed. Perry looked too small and familiar to fit the big screen, so he overcompensated with mugging expressions and wearing a slight air of desperation. Peddling your tricycle really fast doesn’t make you look at home in the Tour de France.
TV stars need to be more approachable and human than their big screen cousins. While Hollywood stars can be portentous and glamorous, sitcom and drama actors have to be sharper, better ensemble players and in some ways more convincing. There’s an extent to which we pay to see Tom Cruise or Julia Roberts be themselves, but when we’re watching Frasier, you’re giving your time to Niles and Frasier, not David Hyde Pierce and Kelsey Grammer.
Bruce Willis is an interesting example, of course, because he first made his name on TV. But the difference between his off-beat, fast-talking slightly manic performance as David Addison in ‘Moonlighting’ and his lumbering, dirty vest figure in the ‘Die Hard’ films is incredible. He realized that a different sort of performance was required if he was to become a movie star. And now he can’t go back.
This divide between film and TV performances is particularly appropriate when you look at the career of David Duchovny. In some ways he’s a natural for a move from TV to films – ‘The X-Files’ is hugely cinematic and has very high production values, and Duchovny himself has the chiselled good looks you’d think would go down well at the cineplex.
But his movie career has been a stuttering affair. Playing the conflicted doctor in the forgettable thriller ‘Playing God’, or the weirdly feeble romantic lead in the ill-judged ‘Return to Me’ have hardly set the screen alight.
So in his current film ‘Evolution’ he seems to relax and have some fun with his former TV role. With strong support from the excellent Orlando Jones (and slightly more suspect assistance from Julianne Moore) Duchovny freewheels through this nonsense ‘Men in Black’ meets ‘Ghostbusters’ romp.
If you check your brain at the door, there are enough good lines to keep you amused (Duchovny: ‘If I was a giant nasty bird in a department store, where would I be?’ Jones: ‘Lingerie’), and it’s passable summer fare.
Perhaps our David heeded the warning from David Caruso’s move from being a big star on ‘NYPD Blue’ to complete anonymity in dodgy films. Caruso tried to bring his TV intensity and earnestness to movies, but couldn’t carry it off. On the evidence of ‘Evolution’, Duchovny’s not even trying. It’s just survival of the witless.