We all know and recognise the thought process behind many studios’ decisions to re-cast actors opposite one another after a successful first film together. Whenever a lot is made of two actors’ supposed chemistry alongside one another, the standards are set unusually high for a repeat performance.
One of things that makes that elusive on-screen chemistry so hard to define is that it has often proven so difficult to replicate. Here are ten pairings that have fallen into the ever-expanding trap of diminishing returns. Oh, and if you care to celebrate it with much gusto, happy Valentine’s Day to you all. I shall be celebrating it with a bucket of KFC – not that I’m bitter or anything…
Tom Hanks and Meg RyanSleepless In Seattle (1993), You’ve Got Mail (1998)
Sleepless In Seattle is a hopelessly schmaltzy and sickeningly saccharine film that desperately tries to come across as something meaningful. The plot’s a bit creepy, too – Tom Hanks is a recently widowed father, whose confession about his lost love on national radio sets in motion a chain of events that leads to listener Meg Ryan falling in love with him. She goes on to believe that they are destined to be together, despite her engagement to someone else. Weird, right?
The whole film is somewhat cynical, but it’s carried well by its two leads, and the end product is an unlikely stalking story with a bit of heart. It’s long-winded but it’s perfectly passable Sunday night fare. There’s an obvious spark and mutual attraction between Ryan and Hanks, something which you can’t usually say about two big stars (at the time they were, for those of you laughing at the back) thrust together for a big payday.
However – and this is a big however – in the follow-up some five years later, You’ve Got Mail, any semblance of what may have appeared as on-screen chemistry was gone. In its place, we got an over-sentimental, corporately sponsored snore-fest in this barely watchable yarn about bookstore owners. Really? Bookstore owners? That’s not really a plot.
It’s smug, far too pleased with itself for its own good, and both characters come across as self-righteous or shallow at different junctures in the film, sometimes both at once – which is an achievement of sorts in itself I suppose.
Julia Roberts and Richard GerePretty Woman (1990), Runaway Bride (1999)
Let me just tell you now, if you’re a big Julia Roberts fan, then this list really isn’t for you. Pretty Woman was the film that cemented Julia Roberts’s place in the public consciousness as one of Hollywood’s biggest rising stars, after building on the earlier successes of Mystic Pizza and Steel Magnolias.
Pretty Woman’s plot involves a self-involved banker sort (Richard Gere) who hires a $3000-per-night prostitute to be his ‘date’ in a strictly platonic way after he breaks up with his girlfriend. While the message is essentially that you can find love no matter what your background, it gets lost amidst all the hoopla and designer labels, and contradicts itself numerous times, to the point that the beginning and ending of the film are like two completely separate pictures.
Nevertheless, the chemistry between Roberts and Gere is undeniable. It’s no exaggeration to say that had either part have been played by someone else, then this film would have seemed even less sincere, even more outrageous and irrefutably creepy.
Runaway Bride followed some nine years later, and boy does it show. Had these two even seen each other since the Pretty Woman premiere? Richard Gere is quite possibly the most self-satisfied screen presence to have ever had the misfortune of appearing in a cinema. He puts the mug in smug; so much so, in fact, that whenever he’s on screen, you just want to hurl something at it to make him stop doing that face.
The plot revolves around a bride, played by Julia Roberts, who has become something of a local legend for continually leaving grooms at the altar – three, to be exact. Richard Gere plays a reporter hoping to get a big scoop as the fourth wedding looms large.
It’s fair to say that you don’t understand anyone’s motivations throughout this entire vanity exercise. Why is Roberts remotely attracted to a haggard-looking Gere? Why does anyone still want to marry Roberts if she keeps buggering off after they’ve forked out thousands of pounds on a wedding? What’s so charming about an old fella preying on feeble-minded younger women?
It’s got everything that a small-town, folksy snapshot of rural America is continually portrayed as having – grannies with potty mouths, cheesy music, horses, fields, hay, rodeos, smalltown diners, more horses. The cliché-meter nearly explodes off the charts.
In the end, while Pretty Woman may not have been realistic, at least it was vaguely plausible. Runaway Bride, though, gives in to the worst excesses of romanticised film-making.â¨â¨
Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler The Wedding Singer (1998), 50 First Dates (2004)
The Wedding Singer is an excellent example of an easy-going rom-com that Hollywood seems incapable of producing anymore. The crucial element that it had in its favour was a lead man that you genuinely rooted for – there’s no Dane Cook, no Freddie Prinze Jnr or Chad Michael Murray on show, thankfully. It was whimsical, but never strayed on the side of try-hard or pretentious.
Sandler played down his usual OTT shtick in favour of a much simpler, gentler performance, and it paid dividends. Barrymore is as dependable a mid-90s romantic comedy lead as you can get; she has a girl-next-door charm about her, and her romance with Sandler appears credible.
The characters are a tad simplistic and the story arc is somewhat predictable, but it is interspersed with some genuinely funny moments, best exemplified by the Boy George lookalike who can only sing Do You Really Want To Hurt Me? and nothing else.
Steve Buscemi even has a car-crash best man speech which includes the brilliant line, “I’ve always been the screwed up one, right Dad? Why can’t you be more like your brother? Howard would never beat up his landlord.”
Flash forward six years to 50 First Dates, and both of the leads were in dire need of a hit. The chemistry borders on the mawkish, and whatever sparks remain are overshadowed by some ill-timed gross-out gags. Barrymore and Sandler remain genial co-stars and perhaps in another reunion in a better scripted film they could again be a success together, but they never get the opportunity to truly find out, or flourish in this clumsy mess.â¨â¨
Al Pacino and Robert De NiroHeat (1995), Righteous Kill (2008)
Words cannot fully describe the effect that Moby’s song, God Moving Over The Face Of The Waters still has on me every single time that I watch Heat – it’s hairs on the back of the neck stuff.
I’ve seen the film at least 20 times, but for some reason I still think that it’ll end differently and that Robert De Niro’s character Neil, with perhaps the most preposterously benign name for a bank robber in film history, will get a different finale.
Michael Mann’s eagerly anticipated blockbuster pitted Hollywood’s two greatest actors for a generation opposite one another. It drew parallels between the committed nature of both their lives to their profession, their slavish attitudes to perfection and the effect and fall-out that it has on their relationships and lives.
The coffee house scene is one of those rare moments that actually lives up to its billing. You can patently see the mutual respect that both have for one another, and there’s a sense that they’ve been waiting for this for just about as long as we have. The dialogue is tense yet revealing, immediately quotable and infinitely repeatable. Heat is a modern cinematic masterpiece.
If only they could have left it there, though, eh? Like an ageing boxer returning for one last fight, one last big pay check, both fellows, now well into their 60s, turned out for Righteous Kill, a John Avnet-helmed film.
Were it not for Pacino or De Niro’s presence in the film, this had straight to DVD written all over it. The plot has been done before and better. The twist you can see coming a mile off, and the script is an absolute dog.
To see him De Niro some way to undoing all the hard work he and fellow culprit Pacino did in Heat with this lazy cop thriller really is just too much to take. It’s phoned-in drivel.
Jon Favreau and Vince VaughnSwingers (1996), Made (2001), The Break-Up (2006), Four Christmases (2008), Couples Retreat (2009)
It all started off so well. Swingers, while not quite the genre and generation defining flick that it’s often made out to be, is an undeniable cult classic, mainly because it had a young Ron Livingston in it, but that’s just a personal preference.
Made picked up pretty much where Swingers left off, dropping Favreau and Vaughn into similar roles as the hopeless and hapless duo, this time as boxers. It worked, just about, but since then, whenever they’ve reunited, it’s gone from bad to worse.
The one thing above all else that really grinds my gears about recent filmmaking is the spate of cronyism which dictates the reasoning behind a lot of casting. That’s all their recent forays together have been, really – a bloated, overly-elaborate excuse to hang out with each other can be the only reasoning behind Four Christmases and Couples Retreat.
More recently, Favreau has taken to moving behind the camera more and more, with the first Iron Man film a great success.
Vince Vaughn, though, is in dire need of rejuvenating his stalled career. Watch Old School, and he is the domineering, driving presence in what is a standout performance in which he’s surrounded by top notch comedic talent. He’s cool, affable, laid-back and most importantly, funny. Now, every one of his films is devoid of wit. He’s lost his spark and it’s like he’s completely forgotten what made him so watchable in the first place.
I’d like to be able to promise you that they won’t continue to trample over everything that made their earlier films engrossing once again in the future, but judging by the increasingly alarming frequency of their projects together nowadays, I wouldn’t hold out much hope if I were you.
Clive Owen and Julia RobertsCloser (2004), Duplicity (2009)
Closer is essentially a stage play acted out on the big screen, much like this month’s Roman Polanski release, Carnage. It’s told in four acts, and is about the relationship between Clive Owen and Julia Roberts’ characters, as well as how it intertwines with outrageously good-looking couple Jude Law and Natalie Portman.
Every character is supremely detestable at some point in one way or another, but it’s an absorbing and engaging film with some truly excellent dialogue in it. None more so than the scene in which Roberts character confesses to having an affair with Jude Law behind her husband’s back. It’s taut, gripping and unpredictable, and they excel when pitted against one another in some of the film’s livelier moments.
Duplicity, though, is a film that’s been made for all the wrong reasons. The duo have been cast solely on the basis of their chemistry in Closer, which is no bad thing in itself, but would have been best served being used in a character-driven film.
Instead, all we are treated to is a silly and incomprehensible spy film that pits a CIA agent against an MI6 operative behind the smokescreen of vested corporate interests. As a result it’s almost instantly forgettable – the sort of film that you find in your nearest Blockbuster and think to yourself: “Oh, I never knew that they did this one together.”
It falls into the pitfall of thinking it’s smart simply because it uses quick-fire dialogue, and thinking it’s savvy simply because it’s been filmed in multiple locations around the world and has shiny gadgety thingimijigs. It’s a film best left on the shelf in Blockbuster.
Keanu Reeves and Sandra BullockSpeed (1994), The Lake House (2006)
You either like both of these actors or you don’t. Both have their own particular styles – one is hopelessly wooden, but is a dab hand at action, the other is Keanu Reeves. Ba dum tishhh. I’m here all week folks, try the veal.
Bullock and Reeves, while obviously sounding a bit like a 1970s British comedy duo from North Yorkshire, are excellent alongside one another in Jan De Bont’s tense thriller Speed, in which a young cop must disable a bomb on a bus before it goes under 50 mph, while simultaneously co-ordinating to stop maniacal terrorist Denis Hopper. It’s a well put together slice of action pie.
The Lake House was released a full decade after their previous collaboration, and any vestiges of a budding partnership are all but forgotten. Sadly for the filmmakers, it is, at times, unintentionally laugh-out-loud funny.
The trailer provides a welcome snapshot of what’s in store, and in all seriousness uses the line: “Welcome to the story of a love without limits, and a place that reaches across time” to the backdrop of Somewhere Only We Know by Keane. That in itself tells you everything that you need to know about this slushy, feeble attempt at a convincing romance where the two leads are separated by a gulf of time.
The crucial factor is that the majority of the film is just the actors talking to someone else about each other. Had they chosen a sentimental rom-com, you know, where they actually figure in the same year as one another, it may have worked.
Matthew McConaughey and Kate HudsonHow To Lose A Guy In 10 Days (2003), Fool’s Gold (2008)
Now, may I just get it in early that I do not wholly condone output like McConaughey and Hudson’s first film together, How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days, but it’s a necessary evil of the industry. It’s fairly harmless, light-hearted stuff, and on the whole, it’s far from the worst rom-com going around. I can certainly think of far worse starring both of these two stars alone.
This brings me rather neatly to Fools Gold. Wow, just wow. Matthew McConaughey must be the most uninspiring casting in cinematic history for this, and Fools Gold is essentially a two-hour Thomas Cook advert sold under the false pretence of an adventurous romp.
The banter is non-existent. The plot is not only tedious, it’s confusing and hackneyed. What chemistry that may have once existed between the two is now shot to pieces, and it becomes clear very early on that they simply don’t want to be there, so why on earth would we want to watch them?
This film appears to have been made based entirely on the threadbare premise that women fancy McConaughey and men fancy Hudson – so some studio bigwig gave the green light to stick the two on a beach and watch them prance around in trunks and a bikini at great expense.
Orlando Bloom and Keira KnightleyThe Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl, (2003), Dead Man’s Chest (2006), and At World’s End, (2007â¨)
Can something diminish if it was never held in great esteem in the first place? Apparently it can. Technically, this is cheating. I won’t deny it, but seeing as Manakin Skywalker Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman were at their ‘best’ in the third instalment of the Star Wars prequel trilogy, and their second film together, it didn’t quite fit in with the pattern that I had going on here.
A few years ago, Hollywood was willing Orlando Bloom on to be the next big thing and they granted him numerous opportunities in huge epics such as Kingdom Of Heaven and Troy after the Lord Of The Rings trilogy to prove himself an actor of real substance.
Bloom’s take on acting seems to be that you have to essentially announce everything in a grandiose manner. There are no subtleties, but lots of bravado. This then makes it something of a thankless task to build up any sort of on-screen chemistry next to an actor permanently disconnected from the scene. It gets even tougher when that actress is Keira Knightley, who much like Bloom (albeit with some exceptions), essentially announces everything too. Their scenes together are all pretence and no passion. Shouting their lines at each other, and constantly talking about how much they love one another doesn’t immediately mean that it translates as anything more substantial or believable to the viewer.
I’m by no means a fan of the Pirates series, but it’s like they actually, physically, just gave up on trying to get any sort of chemistry going after the first film. It doesn’t help that Knightley and Depp spark off each other so well in the exact same film, and the others thereafter.
Jack Lemmon and Walter MatthauMeet Whiplash Willie (1966), The Odd Couple (1968), The Front Page (1974), Buddy Buddy (1981), Grumpy Old Men (1993), Grumpier Old Men (1995), Out To Sea (1997), The Odd Couple 2 (1998)
Talk about taking a good idea and flogging it half to death. The chemistry between Lemmon and Matthau is again undeniable, but over the years and the subsequent sequels and strained remakes of the Odd Couple in similar and far less hilarious situations, the tumbleweeds began to come out in force and the laughter tracks began to feel more forced.
It’s akin to sacrilege to castigate Hollywood royalty in such a way, but to see two once-great actors merely cashing in on such a partnership is extremely unedifying.
Of course, it is somewhat understandable given the reality that any meatier roles elsewhere were likely to have been given to younger actors, but that’s no excuse for doing it in the first place. Legacies are often defined by what an actor does in his twilight years; take note, De Niro and Pacino.
Lemmon and Matthau had a partnership so natural that it’ll be difficult to better or even replicate again in the modern cinematic age. There are simply too many stars now for two people to be granted such freedoms alongside one another in so many character-based vehicles.â¨
It was once good, then it became great, but Lemmon and Matthau will be remembered as much for the films that were good as the ones that were bad, and that in itself is a sad way to bow out.