by: Phil Siegel
Taylor Kitsch is not having a good year. So far, 2012 has been a constant kick in the nuts for his career. The Friday Night Lights (the series, not the movie) alum was poised to break out as a big movie star in a pair of massive, $200M+ movies – John Carter and Battleship. Both were epic bombs of Cutthroat Island variety, flops so enormous that more media attention was generated for tanking than for the actual movie. To have one box office disaster on your resume is bad enough, but to have two in a ten week span… No actor wants to make his debut to worldwide audiences like this. Taylor Kitsch may be down, but his career is definitely not out. In fact, he may be the first actor to star in two megaflops yet still become a leading man.
Kitsch’s saving grace looks to be Savages, which Universal releases July 6. Unlike John Carter and Battleship, Kitsch gets to do some actual acting here, and not in front of a green screen. He can reach an adult audience that champions well-acted films. Savages does have the breakout potential to be a hit with moviegoers young and old thanks to its multigenerational cast and sexy storyline. The Oliver Stone-directed drug thriller a released a buzzed-about trailer a few months ago; the studio moved the movie’s release up to a prime summer spot in a sign of confidence. As an alternative to the popcorn fare, there’s a strong change Savages could outgross John Carter’s $72M domestic gross. If that happens, it will give his star a serious boost. All he has to worry about is getting overshadowed by flashier turns from Benicio Del Toro, John Travolta, and especially Salma Hayek.
Even if Savages doesn’t break out, Kitsch’s career isn’t a goner. John Carter and Battleship didn’t bomb because of him. He was a cog in a blockbuster. His name was never above the title and never expected to draw in audiences. John Carter imploded from Andrew Stanton’s hubris and horrendous marketing. Battleship sunk because Universal tried to turn a board game into a movie about aliens. Kitsch escaped the brunt of criticism. Even in reviews that bashed his acting, they blamed it on a weak script. Still, had they been hits, how much would they have done for his career really? He would have been like another Hemsworth brother – only popular in franchise fare. Let’s see if Chris H. can turn racecar drama Rush into a hit before calling him a star.
Ryan Reynolds’ 2011 looked a bit like Kitsch’s 2012. Reynolds, fresh off smash The Proposal, bombed hard with follow-ups Green Lantern and The Change-Up. Both movies cost less and lost less money than Kitsch’s bombs, but their success rested on Reynolds’ shoulders. Green Lantern and The Change-Up were infused with his smart aleck personality, and it turned people off. Critics and fanboys complained that he was miscast as the green superhero, a second-rate Robert Downey Jr. The Change-Up reeked of a desperate cash grab. Audiences’ rejection of the movies were a rejection of Reynolds’ persona. Kitsch didn’t face that scrutiny with his films.
What separates Kitsch from Reynolds and Hemsworth is Friday Night Lights. People who’ve watched FNL know that he can act. Despite low ratings, the show has a fiercely loyal following, especially among critics and Hollywood, two groups that actors want on their good side. They know he has the chops to be a leading man, and they know that John Carter and Battleship were not avenues to display his talent. Those flicks were calculated moves to get him exposure in order to land juicier roles. True, had they been better made, they could’ve showcased his abilities. Audiences can sniff out when “the next big thing” is being thrust upon them, and they won’t embrace just anyone. You don’t see Chris Pine “Hey Girl” memes crashing the web. Actors like Hemsworth and Sam Worthington that seemingly come out of nowhere to land in tentpole films don’t have meaty roles to prove their acting cred. Can you complete this sentence: “Yeah, Clash of the Titans 2 may have sucked, but Worthington is a great actor. Serious! Just look at ____________________.”
Kitsch can coast on FNL for a while, just like many actors use their best films to overcome a string of flops. Hillary Swank and Halle Berry have sustained careers thanks to their Oscar-winning performances. Kitsch’s Savages costar Blake Lively weathered the Green Lantern fallout because of her impressive turn in The Town. In the future Kitsch will need to be more selective about his film choices. I’d stay away from any movie with Rihanna a pricetag over $200M for a while.
Philip Siegel grew up in New Jersey, just down the block from a veritable Real Housewife. He graduated from Northwestern University and promptly moved out to Los Angeles, where he became an NBC page. Phil likes to think that the character of Kenneth on 30 Rock is loosely based on his life rights. Currently, he works at a major Chicago advertising agency by day while he writes novels at night and during his commute sandwiched in between colorful characters on the El. His plays have been performed on stage and radio, and he has published articles about gay line dancing bars and the French box office, among other fundamental topics. Read his blog at philipsiegelwrites.blogspot.com and follow him on Twitter at @FillupSeagull.