Musics Stars in Movies: Good Idea? Bad Idea?

SO LADY GAGA IS joining the cast of Machete Kills, the grindhouse sequel directed by Robert Rodriguez. When I heard I kept asking myself, “Putting a music star in a movie… has this ever been done before?” Uh, yeah. Of course it has. There’s been an unwritten convention since the dawn of Hollywood that every couple of years studios must conduct cruel experiments on innocent moviegoers with this terrible cross-platform audience multiplier. The problem is that these two innocent compounds — music stars and Hollywood films — become noxious when combined.

1. Inside jokes
For one, you get inside jokes. Dick Tracy had potential to be an interesting movie. What, come on, I’m serious. But when Madonna was cast as Breathless Mahoney opposite her then-boyfriend Warren Beatty, things took a sharp turn into total self-satire. You’re watching a movie about a detective, but all you see is this little pop tart firecracker, way out of her depth with this legendary and aging Hollywood ladies’ man, who’s way out of his depth in this movie. It feels like a huge expensive inside joke about the industry.

Dick Tracy

2. No one will ever care about your film
Another risk is that eventually no one will ever care about your film. When I happen upon a film starring Elvis or The Beatles, that’s all it will ever be to me, an Elvis or Beatles movie. The film might have some other merits… maybe there was a great cinematographer on it, or the effect they used to make the star surf a wave is amazing, or it’s a film for ’60′s teens and it’s about incest. Whatever the case, once some musician stars in it, it becomes the film’s shorthand forever more, and that’s sad. If I’d known about that Elvis incest movie I could have used it to test my parents’ reaction back when I dated my cousin.

Elvis’ Kissing Cousins

3. It’s the ultimate Hollywood bad-idea gateway drug
Putting musicians in films can also become a Hollywood gateway drug. Mad Max II is kind of awesome, as is Labyrinth, but the net result of these successes seems to have been giving Dennis Rodman a movie career, playing villains from a future where no one has normal hair. I just think a lot of this could have been avoided if casting directors excesized a little more self-control.

Mad Max 2

4. It embarrasses the REAL stars
The Producers is a musical, about a company realizing that a flop makes more money than a hit, and trying to manufacture one, and failing at it. Sometimes the studios putmusicians in films, only to find that the out-act the tits off Hollywood’s A-list, whatever the A stands for. The majority of these stories involve practitioners of the music style that requires the most acting: rap.

Eminem did an absolute perfect job of being just a actor in 8 Mile, not too much, not too little. Ditto Ice-T in New Jack City. Think of Mark Whalberg. Ice Cube in Boyz n the Hood. A long list follows. In fact, the Hollywood films set in a ‘rap’, ‘streets’, ‘urban’ or ‘gang’ world that don’t feature rappers are typically the ones that absolutely blow. It must bug the hell out of people who do this for a living.

Boyz n the Hood

5. It doesn’t work the other way, either
Especially the ones who try to do the crossover the other way. One look at Juliette and the Licks, Jeff Bridges’ or Bruce Willis’ “blues” music, ahem, Dogstar, or Billy Bob Thornton’s jams, and it’s clear there is a rock solid boundary here that need only be crossed by the death-driven.

Billy Bob Music Interview Gone Awesomely Wrong

6. They make us feel smart
Most of the time, vehicles for stars are fluff that never goes anywhere. A lot of us want to see our favourite musicians act, it’s fun because it makes us feel less pathetic for wanting to pay money to see this person walk and talk and do stuff that isn’t their talent. Walk-ons and cameos are never cool, but sometimes it’s cute to see Hollywood try to have a good idea that falls on its face. It reminds us that we’re all human.

When Machete Kills comes out I’m sure the stars will look cool, the script will be razor sharp, and the effects de-interlaced. And when Lady Gaga comes on, while one part of me will cringe at another film being ruined, another will sigh with relief, and go “all these music/movie biz know it alls, there just as stupid as I am. Ahhhh.”



Do they work? Do they not work?

1. Will Smith, Ali

2. Justin Timberlake, The Social Network

3. Beyonce, Cadillac Records

4. David Bowie, Labyrinth

5. Dolly Parton, Nine to Five

6. Cher, Moonstruck

7. Sting, Dune

8. Madonna, A League of Their Own

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