Next week in this column, I will be enshrining the inaugural Phoned-In Hall of Fame class, a lifetime-achievement award for once-great actors who have spent decades collecting enormous paychecks while expending little effort on worthless movies.
The prototype for this style of acting is Marlon Brando, who in his later years went so far as to have his lines fed to him through an earpiece. For this, he was given then-record upfront salaries and unheard-of profit shares, a lesson learned well by his descendants.
Brando begat an entire generation of actors whose performances grew progressively lazier as their paydays got progressively handsomer and their cinematic vehicles progressively more insipid. Before we enshrine these masters of phoned-in performances, however, a few ground rules:
1. Enshrinement is only open to working actors and actresses (sorry, Billy Crystal).
2. Actors who were once great are given preferential treatment over actors who were once good; Liam Neeson’s descent into mediocrity isn’t nearly as tragic as Al Pacino’s.
3. Stars are given preferential treatment over character actors—Tom Hanks collecting $20 million to sleepwalk through movies is more egregious than Malcolm McDowell doing the same at a fraction of the price.
4. The duration of an actor’s “phoning-it-in period” is weighed heavily; Ben Stiller and Will Ferrell phoning it in for the last five to 10 years is nothing compared to Eddie Murphy phoning it in for the last 20 to 25.
5. Bad acting is not the same as phoning it in. Halle Berry acted her brains out in Frankie & Alice, she just wasn’t good (however, Berry did recently receive an NAACP Image Award; I wonder which one of her roles as a gratuitously naked, crack-addicted prostitute with mental problems finally put her over).
Next week: the inaugural Phoned-In Hall of Fame class!